New York To Allow Illegal Immigrants To Get Drivers' Licenses

Friday, September 21st 2007, 7:51 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ New York will allow illegal immigrants who have a valid foreign passport to get a driver's license, with a goal of bringing ``people out of the shadows'' into American society, Gov. Eliot Spitzer said Friday.

New York has between 500,000 and 1 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are driving without a license and car insurance or with fake driver's licenses, Spitzer said at a news conference announcing the executive order.

``They no longer need to hide and pretend they are not here,'' said Spitzer. ``We will not become part of what is propagated on the federal level that if we don't admit they are here then we can somehow not provide services. That is bad policy.''

Under the new policy, immigrants _ regardless of their status _ will be permitted to provide a current, verifiable foreign passport in applying for a license. The policy will be phased in over time beginning in December 2007. Similar policies have been adopted in Utah, New Mexico and other states.

The change drew the scorn of some Republican lawmakers from New York. Rep. Randy Kuhl, a Republican, said the new policy ``undermines the preventive measures that protect our country from national security threats. The September 11, 2001, hijackers had at least 35 licenses, which helped them to rent cars and open bank accounts.''

``This policy encourages people to flood New York State and wreck havoc on our social services, schools, and hospitals,'' he added.

The shift in policy is geared toward enhanced security, safer streets and a reduction in insurance premiums for all New York drivers by an anticipated $120 million a year, said David Swarts, New York's Motor Vehicles Commissioner.

AAA found that unlicensed drivers are more than five times likely to be involved in car accidents, Swarts noted.

Michael Balboni, New York's homeland security head, said that the new system actually improves security because it creates public records that can be accessed by law enforcement and others to ensure true identities.

``What we are driving towards is the crucial concept in security: One person, one license,'' Balboni said.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, called the new policy a victory for the immigrant community.

She noted that immigrant New Yorkers who did not have access to a license had a difficult time making it to work and getting their children to school.