Drivers' Licenses Will Still Be An Issue

Governor Eliot Spitzer and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have announced a new compromise on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.  Both Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa are on record opposing the original plan. The new proposal would issue two classes of licenses.  Those who can prove residency will be issued a RealID license, and those who can't will get a license to drive with restrictions on its use for boarding airplanes or crossing borders.  As part of the compromise,  New York will be one of the first states to issue RealID licenses.  

If a successful compromise is one that leaves both sides unhappy, then Spitzer's new plan is a big win.  Immigrant groups are calling the new, second class license a "scarlet letter".    Those who opposed Spitzer's earlier plan point to the extra expense of issuing two kinds of licenses.  And county clerks in Erie and Niagara counties are planning to call the sheriff to arrest anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant applying for a license.

I didn't have an objection to Spitzer's earlier plan, because I don't think that it's the state's business to become immigration police.  But his endorsement of the intrusive and pointless RealID program now has turned me against it.  Since nobody is happy with issuing illegals second-class licenses, I'll bet that the final outcome will probably be no license for illegals, and RealIDs for the rest of us.   Our highways won't be any safer, but we'll all be packing a big-brother identity card.

In the 29th, this controversy has handed Kuhl and his supporters some easy talking points.  I listened to some of the Bob Lonsberry show twice this week, and this issue had big play in both of the snippets I heard.  Lonsberry's position is that the license will actually attract illegals to New York.   That's consistent with his usual tactic of pushing illegal immigrants as scapegoats for the lackluster Southern Tier economy.  I've shown why this is a fantasy in an earlier post.  In this case, however, Bob has it pretty easy, because there seems to be something inherently wrong about county clerks issuing legal documents to people who are breaking the law.

That perception of a basic injustice is what's going to keep driving this controversy, as it does the whole illegal immigration mess.   The national polling on this issue shows that most folks would be happy with an amnesty program that's coupled to paying fines or back taxes, they want to increase security at the border, and they believe legal immigration benefits our country.    But Congress can't seem to pull the trigger on a compromise containing security, earned amnesty and realistic quotas for Mexico, Central and Latin America.   Until some national compromise is reached, the pressure caused by illegal immigration will be ventilated periodically by dust-ups like the drivers' license controversy.  Why Eliot Spitzer wanted to stick his hand into this barrel of scorpions is beyond me, but he hasn't done his reputation any favors in the 29th.