(From The Sun, New York)
Jacob Gershman, Sept 21, 2007
Illegal immigrants in New York will be allowed to obtain New York State driver's licenses under a new policy that the Spitzer administration is expected to announce shortly, a source said.
Starting in 2008, the Department of Motor Vehicles will accept foreign passports and birth certificates from immigrants as proofs of identification for new license applications. Immigrants will no longer need to provide legal status paperwork or a Social Security card, the source said.
The changes could not be immediately confirmed by the Spitzer administration.
County clerks around the state came to Albany yesterday to meet with officials from the Department of Motor Vehicles to discuss the new policy, according to the source, who said the commissioner, David Swarts, briefed the Bloomberg administration.
During last year's gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Spitzer said he would permit illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, arguing that banning them from driving worsened the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers without adding to security.
"The facts show that restricting immigrants's access to driver's licenses does nothing to improve security," a spokeswoman for Mr. Spitzer, Christine Anderson, told the Associated Press in October. "All it does is drive immigrants into the shadows, creating a class of people with no public records."
Opponents of the proposed changes said restrictions on giving licenses to illegal immigrants help to prevent identity theft and thwart terrorist attacks. They note that the September 11, 2001 plane hijackers had at least 35 licenses, which helped them to rent cars and open bank accounts.
Since the September 11 attacks, state governments have expanded driver's license identification requirements and many have begun preparing for the implementation of the Real ID Act of 2005, which requires states to adopt national standards for driver's licenses by the end of 2009.
New York is one of more than 30 states to verify the Social Security numbers of driver's license applicants.
In 2002, Mr. Pataki issued an executive order that required driver's license applicants to submit Social Security numbers to prove they were legal residents or to provide proof that they were not eligible for a Social Security number.
In 2004, to comply with an executive order issued by Mr. Pataki, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles began sending out warning letters to New Yorkers with licenses whose Social Security numbers did not match federal data.
About 58% of the 600,000 individuals who received the letter verified their Social Security numbers. Those individuals who did not verify their numbers will be able to get a legal license by December, the source said.