Governor Spitzer’s Plan For NY Driver’s Licenses

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has unveiled a plan for a multi-tiered driver’s license which has support from the federal government yet is facing much opposition in New York, including by many representing undocumented immigrants. The plan calls for three types of licenses:

1. An enhanced driver’s license which will be as secure as a passport–this is intended for people who will soon need to meet ID requirements even for the short drive to Canada;
2. A second version which will meet federal standards under the Real ID Act, which is designed to make it harder for illegal immigrants to get licenses;

3. A third type of driver’s license which will be available to undocumented immigrants, in order to “bring those people out of the shadows” and ensure that the immigrants get driver’s training and obtain automobile insurance in New York.

Under the new administrative order of New York Governor Spitzer, New York would be the fourth state after Arizona, Vermont and Washington to agree on federally approved secure licenses. However, Governor Spitzer continues to face staunch opposition to his plan in the Republican controlled New York State Senate, which wants to ensure that “illegal immigrants will not get any version of a license.” The Senate is holding firm to the present New York State requirement that in order to obtain New York driver’s licenses, immigrants must first be in possession of a social security number.

Governor Spitzer initially proposed a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants in order to ensure that immigrants who are now driving regardless of whether they have a license would obtain insurance and be better trained drivers in the process. However, due to vehement opposition around New York State, including from many county clerks who stated publicly that they would refuse to issue licenses to immigrants who failed to produce social security numbers, the governor backed off and adopted the multi-tiered plan. By doing so, he now risks alienating many immigrant rights advocates. Further, it seems highly unlikely that New York undocumented immigrants would “come out of the shadows” to attempt to obtain a license which will guarantee that they will be making their illegal status known to the authorities. At this juncture, the plan seems unwieldy and faces a tough battle for public and governmental support.