New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer recently announced his plan to implement a system of three different driver’s licenses. Under his agreement, New Yorkers will have the option of three licenses – an “Enhanced Driver’s License” that allows Western and Northern New Yorkers to cross the New York-Canadian border without a passport; a federally-approved license that allows residents to board airplanes or enter federal facilities; and a regular license that may only be used for driving and identification purposes. This last form of license will be available to both lawful residents and undocumented immigrants. Yes, it will be available to illegal immigrants. Spitzer plans to allow people who are not even legally allowed in the United States to drive legally. The idea is preposterous.
In response to protestations of his plan, Spitzer commented, “We are not talking about bringing more people into this country; we are talking about being practical about the ones who are already here.” However, by allowing undocumented residents to legally drive, he is sending out the message that it is O.K. for people to enter the country illegally and that we will make an effort to accommodate these people who are breaking the law. We do not tolerate law breaking from documented residents; why should we tolerate it from undocumented ones? Additionally, what incentive are we giving immigrants to obtain legal residency or citizenship?
One of Spitzer’s arguments in support of the program is that he is not implementing a tiered system, meaning that there will not be separate licenses only given to undocumented residents. The state-approved license will continue to be issued to lawful residents, as well, showing no distinction between the license of an illegal immigrant and that of a legal resident. The idea of a tiered license approach seems more reasonable, though. Legal New York State residents should not be equated with New Yorkers who are living here illegally.
While not every part of Spitzer’s plan is terrible – the “Enhanced Driver’s License” is a great idea, especially with federal government plans to implement a law that prohibits passage across the United States-Canadian border, inhibiting the economy of many New York State businesses near the border – his thoughts on this matter are severely flawed.
If Spitzer is opposed to our current immigration policy and thinks that we should be more inviting to potential U.S. citizens, this is not the way to get his foot in the door to change it. He is telling all those who have made the effort to enter New York legally that their time and energy was, in many senses, worthless because they could have gotten one of the most fundamental necessities of living in the United States – legal driving abilities and an approved form of identification – without going through all the trouble that they did.
While Spitzer’s apparent intentions to provide the citizens of New York with greater security may seem noble, his plan is not the correct way to provide his constituents with what they’re looking for.
Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.