Spitzer Licensing Plan Saves All


The cities’ DMVs might soon be filled with NYC residents if the Govenor’s proposed idea of temporary immigrant licenses is passed. Can this policy make NYC streets safer? (Ali Watts/The Observer)

Published: October 25, 2007

In a policy speech at Fordham College at Lincoln Center’s (FCLC) campus on Oct. 2, Governor Eliot Spitzer defended his new Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) policy that will make the streets safer and prevent terrorism.  The governor’s plan is a strike to undo the changes passed by his predecessor, former Governor George Pataki. Before the 1995 Pataki changes, anyone in New York State could obtain a driver’s license without a Social Security Number (SSN).  After the 1995 Amendment to the Vehicle and Traffic Law §502, individuals required a SSN to obtain a New York license.  A 2002 state law further limited the realm allowing only legal residents to receive licenses.  Many workers and immigrants could not comply with these new demands and their privileges were revoked.  The only exception is a SSN ineligibility letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), which requires legal status.

Governor Spitzer’s universal licensing initiative for all undocumented individuals, including immigrants, sparked political battles over national security and labor strength, which are both serious concerns of our local and federal governments. The policymakers who oppose Spitzer’s initiative are merely hindering economic growth and public safety by playing this political game.  There should be a balance between workers’ rights and national security (including safety).

Did you know that undocumented immigrants who live in the state of Florida, the fourth most populous state, drive with licenses and insurance?  Well, they do, and now they can do the same in Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington, which have adopted similar policies for all undocumented immigrants.

Many states are opening the doors to immigrants, and New York should be one of the leaders in this campaign against the strengthening of federal government, especially with the recent REAL ID Act (The REAL ID Act permits Washington D.C. to establish a federal ID by 2013, where State IDs become secondary).  There are at least 10 states, including Texas, that do not require “legal U.S. residency to obtain a driver’s license,” according to a House Research Organization Focus Report on Immigration and Enforcement released by the Texas House of Representatives.  This strikes a critical point for New York as it is a melting pot for diversity and the third most populated state in the Union. Spitzer’s plan promotes state powers and improves New York’s undocumented immigrants’ lives.

Currently, many non-citizens could obtain NY licenses by getting a letter from the SSA demonstrating that they could not acquire a SSN.  Thus, we are still allowing some immigrants to access state-certified identification. With the Spitzer Plan, the SSA credential is unnecessary, but the individual must provide proof of SSN ineligibility, under penalty of perjury, by providing identifications that will be verified by DMV’s state-of-the-art equipment (e.g., photo comparison and document scanning), according to a press release on the governor’s Web site.

New York’s vibrant economy needs safer roads and programs that embrace the challenges from rising immigration influxes.  Immigrants do not only sustain population growth, but also nourish new trends and innovations.  However, many policymakers think that the governor’s plan will open doors to terrorists.  In fact, this new plan brings more transparency to law enforcement officials to ensure public safety and prevent fraud.  The goal is to put more people on the record, so that the government can track terrorists; the initiative is not meant to encourage it.  The DMV will also be using high tech equipment and specialists to perform face scans to make certain that any individual gets only one state-issued license.  Therefore, the plan actually keeps a closer watch on individuals who may be linked to terrorism, whereas the current plan lets them roam around and develop fraudulent identification.

According to a study done by the New York Federal Reserve Bank in January 2006, immigrants are entering New York with higher levels of education and New York City will need to attract more highly skilled workers in order to sustain its performance in this global economy.  Ultimately, New York needs to restructure its economy to keep attracting more highly skilled workers by upgrading its services sector.  New York should work on a catalyst to encourage immigrants, not turn them away.

Nevertheless, we need still to bridge the gap between skilled and unskilled workers, and we are currently ignoring the unskilled ones by denying the governor’s plan.  Many undocumented and uninsured immigrants are on New York roads to earn a living.  Under Spitzer’s Plan, there will be equal access to a driver’s license for immigrants, so they can work happily with no fear of the state chasing after them.  Furthermore, parents who are undocumented immigrants will be able to drive their children to school or visit the emergency room. In the end, this measure ensures safety for all citizens.  Restructuring the licensing system will bring the undocumented out of the shadows and help New York grow, despite any national economic slowdown.

It is the goal of the DMV to provide safer roads.  Reckless or unlicensed drivers cause many of the accidents on the roads, and licensed drivers are the ones paying for it!  Spitzer’s plan will decrease accidents, slow insurance rates and track those that violate the law.  Accidents will decrease because all licenses will be tracked and can be revoked by the state. Additionally, this plan allows undocumented immigrants to get a license and encourages them to make an effort to take lessons and pass the road test.

Spitzer’s plan will help law enforcement efforts to monitor those on the terrorist watch lists.  Also, frauds will decrease as all individuals are encompassed in this universal policy.  If you open the market to undocumented immigrants and provide them with an opportunity, they will obey the law.  The more restrictions you place on people, the more violations that draw on anti-fraud funding.

The resilience of the New York economy to absorb negative growth derives from population growth.  Pressures to limit immigration will force immigrants to look elsewhere, and this is what the opposing side is advocating.  The injustices will significantly wear out the working class—New York will not survive.  The governor’s plan is definitely a ‘go’ for all of us.  There are many benefits, and New York should continue to be the beacon of hope for everyone, immigrants and non-immigrants alike.