October 12, 2007

New N.Y. License Policy Drives Debate

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The national debate over illegal immigration splashed across the pages of New York newspapers last month following a policy change made by Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-N.Y.). This new policy, which grants New York State driver’s licenses to individuals without regard to their immigration status, has set the stage for the recent heated political debate.
According to The New York Times, the Department of Motor Vehicles will be accepting a current foreign passport as proof of identity without also requiring a valid year-long visa or other document indicating legal immigration.
Spitzer’s decision is triggering praise as well as criticism from both political parties. Those who support the action see its potential to increase traffic safety while lowering insurance costs for all New Yorkers. Those who oppose it realize it may provide more opportunities for identity fraud crimes and even terrorism-related acts.
In a response to Spitzer’s decision, president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America Peter Gadiel told the Times that “Governor Spitzer will demonstrate abject stupidity and breathtaking disregard for the victims of 9/11 if he hands these powerful ID’s to people who sneak across our borders. Terrorists here illegally used licenses to kill my son and thousands of others in the World Trade Center; if they do it again using New York licenses issued by this governor, the blood of the victims will be on Mr. Spitzer’s hands.”
Michael Balboni, the deputy secretary for public safety for the State of New York, is the senior homeland security and law enforcement official in Spitzer’s administration.
“Some of the main issues associated with illegal immigration are document forging, identity theft and the issuing of driver’s licenses,” he explained.
Balboni noted that the majority of illegal aliens travel to the States from Mexico and from countries in Latin and Central America. And despite the fact that more than half a million reside in NYS, Balboni affirmed that the state is not a national hub for illegal immigrants.
“Although it is not one of the main problems related to illegal immigration, terrorism is a potential risk,” Balboni said. “There isn’t enough communication and intelligence-sharing between state governments and between the U.S. and Canada — we are working to change that now. We could be more secure.”
Balboni emphasized the importance of understanding terrorism.
“It’s important to not only look for systemic security enhancements, but also to always communicate this information with other states and countries,” he stressed. “You cannot let it defeat you.”
At the head of the political debate concerning illegal immigrants and the recent policy change stand Governor Spitzer and presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani strongly opposes the policy. Some individuals believe that members of both parties are responding to the new policy in ways that will benefit the party in the next political elections.
According to the Times, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York John H. Mollenkopf estimated that more than one in eight New York voters in the 2004 presidential elections were immigrants. He then went on to predict that Democratic and Republican responses to Spitzer’s action are likely to have an effect on immigrants’ political stances.
The Census Bureau estimates the total number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. today to be around 8-9 million — and counting. As the 2008 presidential elections get closer and as more and more illegal immigrants call the United States their home, these issues and controversies may only increase in prevalence and tangibility.