Spitzer revealed his licensing policy in detail last weekend at a press conference in Washington during which he was flanked by homeland security chief Michael Chertoff.
The plan envisages three choices for residents of the state, both legal and undocumented, many among the latter category being Irish.
? A license that is available to all, undocumented and documented, that will have no indication of legal status. Applicants just have to show proof of residency in the state.
? An “enhanced” driver’s license which will come into affect next year and will be primarily for those living in communities along the Canadian border.
? A license that complies with the federal REAL ID act that will be valid for all federal purposes, such as boarding a plane or entering a federal building, as mandated by the 2005 REAL ID Act.
Only U.S. citizens and lawfully present non-citizens are eligible for the REAL ID document.
Those not wishing to obtain a REAL ID can still travel and gain access to buildings using a legitimately issued passport.
“While there will still be people on either extreme of the debate – those who will never support licensing undocumented immigrants, and those who simply wish the looming federal mandates did not exist and that New York State could give one license to everyone without suffering the consequences – the governor has made the most secure and most pragmatic choice in front of him, which is what this comprehensive agreement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) represents,” a spokesman for Spitzer said in a statement.
“We want to assure the public, and particularly the immigrant public, that by doing this there will still be no indication on the NYS Drivers License that they are undocumented,” said a spokeswoman, Eileen Reyes, in a separate statement.
The governor’s office has been at pains to emphasize that the agreement with the Department of Homeland Security will make New York’s licensing system the most secure in the country.
But various reports have presented Spitzer’s latest move as a major shift in thinking after weeks of uproar over his plan to grant licenses to immigrants who are unable to produce valid social security numbers.
Republicans had vigorously attacked the plan while many Democrats fretted that Spitzer had created an issue that would politically expose Democratic candidates in next year’s elections, not just in New York, but around the nation.
Even Secretary Chertoff was cool in his endorsement of the plan, though he acknowledged it as a step forward in terms of security when compared to the original plan which appeared to simply open New York’s licensing operation to all comers, regardless of legal status so long as they were qualified to drive.
“I don’t endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally, but federal law does allow states to make that choice. What we can do is insist that licenses that do not meet federal requirements be clearly so labeled. New York has agreed to do that,” he said.
The plan to allow the undocumented and illegal in New York to secure a driver’s permit has been generally welcomed by Irish immigrant advocates though it is seen purely as a measure that allows the undocumented Irish to work, not, for example, to return to Ireland for a visit or as a basis for securing a long term future in America.
As such it doesn’t obviate the need for comprehensive immigration reform out of Washington, advocates say.
The New York Times, meanwhile, was critical of the three-tier plan, accusing Spitzer in an editorial Tuesday of caving in to political pressure.
It stated that while the form of license that would be available to all applicants would not specify that a person was undocumented “who else would really want this license except those who cannot qualify for anything else?”
“As other states have learned a separate but unequal license for immigrants does not work. Undocumented workers would not come out of the shadows to apply for a driving permit that they believe would make them a target for any official on a crusade against illegal immigrants,” the Times concluded.