N.Y. / Region



October 23, 2007, 1:41 pm

Why Some Democrats Defected on Spitzer Driver’s License Plan

Updated, 3:58 p.m. | You do not have to look too hard for reasons every Senate Republican who was present at Monday’s session voted for a bill to rescind Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s new policy allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses.

Beyond principled opposition to Mr. Spitzer’s policy, there is the fact that the licensing proposal may be Mr. Spitzer’s single most unpopular decision since he took office — the one issue on which voters most overwhelmingly disagree with him. For Senate Republicans, in particular, who hold a narrow two-seat majority, the issue is pure political gold, perhaps the key to retaining their majority next year.

But even more telling are the eight Democrats who voted against Mr. Spitzer on an issue in which the governor has clearly dug in for a fight. The Senate has 33 Republicans and 29 Democrats; the vote on the driver’s license measure was 39-19. (Two Republicans and two Democrats were excused from voting.)

The roll call of eight defectors: Craig M. Johnson of Nassau County, Jeffrey D. Klein of Westchester and the Bronx, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, Diane J. Savino of Brooklyn and Staten Island, William T. Stachowski from the Buffalo area, Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, Antoine M. Thompson from the Buffalo area and David J. Valesky from the Syracuse area.

Mr. Kruger is a conservative Democrat who votes with Republicans on most issues, and Mr. Stachowski, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Valesky all hail from more conservative upstate districts.

But the reasons the others bucked the party line are more interesting. Mr. Johnson was elected last year with substantial help from the governor. Mr. Klein is the second-most senior Democrat in the Senate. Ms. Savino has generally been close to the governor and to labor groups, which are supporting Mr. Spitzer’s proposal.

Some of these senators supported the governor even when he moved ahead with plans to cut financing for schools or hospitals in their districts — issues they felt they could finesse despite local opposition. But apparently the licensing proposal is even more of a political hot potato.

In a brief interview this morning, before a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson said he thought the Senate vote was significant because it “chronicled where people stood” on a highly contentious issue. But Mr. Paterson — who was the leader of the Senate’s Democratic minority until he was tapped as Mr. Spitzer’s running mate last year — also seemed surprised that so many Democratic senators defected.

Will the driver’s license issue harm the Democrats? “It’s a challenge for people like me,” Mr. Paterson said, diplomatically, “to try to slow down the discussion and make it more analytical and less emotional.”

In a statement released at 2:58 p.m., the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, responded to the lawsuit by the county clerks. The statement defended Mr. Spitzer’s policy change on legal grounds but was hardly a ringing endorsement:

The State of New York has determined that they will no longer require applicants for driver’s licenses who do not have Social Security numbers to provide a letter from the Social Security Administration proving their ineligibility for those numbers. Legal challenges to this policy change have been commenced. We are defending these challenges and believe we will be successful. Our position is that this change will be found to be within the authority of the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.

This is not about whether Social Security Numbers (SSN) will be required ­ they never were and they are still not. Instead, the statute requires people who have SSNs to provide them. The change is only about what documentation has to be provided by people who do not have SSNs. Formerly, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) required such people to prove their SSN ineligibility with Federal government documents that could not be obtained by an undocumented immigrant. Now, an applicant will prove SSN ineligibility by affirming ­ under penalty of perjury ­ that they have no SSN, that they are ineligible for one, and provide the DMV with identity documents, including a current and valid foreign passport, that support that status.

The State has determined that there are significant policy concerns which are advanced by this policy change. Enhanced safety on the State’s roads and reduction of automobile insurance costs are important considerations that the State believes will be promoted by these changes.

New York statutes give the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles the authority to determine what documents he will accept from applicants for driver’s licenses as proof of identity, age, fitness and SSN ineligibility. The prior Commissioner determined that, as proof of SSN ineligibility, he would only accept a Social Security Administration letter of ineligibility with underlying documentation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We successfully defended that decision in the Court of Appeals (Cubas v. Martinez, 8 N.Y.3d 611
(2007)).

In order to defend that prior practice, we argued that the requirement of American documents was not aimed at excluding undocumented aliens or otherwise enforcing the immigration laws, but rather it was aimed at providing the Commissioner with verifiable documents to guard against fraud. We presented that argument to the courts through the affidavits of DMV officials and the majority of the Court of Appeals accepted it. It is doubtful that the prior practice would have been upheld if the Court had thought that the DMV was trying to enforce the federal immigration laws.

The current DMV Commissioner has determined that he has the ability to verify certain foreign source documents, such as foreign passports, and he will therefore not limit applicants seeking to prove SSN ineligibility to providing Social Security Administration letters with DHS documentation. We will equally defend that decision in the courts of this State.

Sewell Chan contributed reporting.


20 Comments

  1. 1. October 23, 2007 2:28 pm Link

    I am really aghast. I do not understand how so many people can be so oblivious to what is going on right now in this country.Xenophobia has taken a strong hold, and everyone knows it and yet no one dares acknowledge it. Putting the word “immigrant” in a sentence is enough to create an upheaval, but cutting down fundings for schools or hospitals, or sending more money to fund an illegitimate war seems not to phase anyone. Governor Spitzer is doing something great in my opinion; providing them with a driver’s license will not modify in any way their status but will only make them identifiable. Now we should all ask ourselves why it matters so much that these people should not be given an ID, really what do we want to keep them in the shadow?

    — jenny
  2. 2. October 23, 2007 3:28 pm Link

    jenny - this is not an issue of race, but of legality. I don’t have a problem with an illegal immigrant (regardless of race), having an ID. I DO have a problem with an illegal immigrant having a driver’s license without restrictions. Why? Because driver’s licenses are used as identification for American citizens and allows them to do things that only American citizens can do…such as vote. If Spitzer can figure out a way to differentiate what is given to illegal immigrants from what is given to American citizens, there is no problem.

    — courtney
  3. 3. October 23, 2007 3:33 pm Link

    Gov. Spitzer is out of his mind with his plan to issue driver licenses to Illegal Aliens.

    His behavior is out of control and lucky for him, he has 3 years to regain his sanity until the next election in 2010.

    Politically, he is trying to shove this proposal down the throats of NY and is tone deaf to the public’s disapproval of his proposal.

    — Common Sense
  4. 4. October 23, 2007 3:56 pm Link

    As we struggle to know our domestic enemies. No, matter your political party affiliation, and setting aside your thoughts on issues. We all need to remember what it is to be an American Citizen. We need to make sure our elected representatives obey their Oath of Office and keep their Oath of Allegiance. See http://tinyurl.com/2znnvl Know whom you are voting for.

    — Dr Coles
  5. 5. October 23, 2007 4:03 pm Link

    A driver’s license is NOT a citizenship card.

    Courtney, are you sure that having a driver’s license in the state of NY is the ONLY requirement for voting?

    On the other hand, having a valid driver’s license in the state of NY is required to buy car insurance.

    — Gloria Rendon
  6. 6. October 23, 2007 4:16 pm Link

    This is simple Illegal means breaking the Law. immigrants like Italians that came to this country through ellis island had to be sponsered by someone in America, they were examined for diseases, isolated if sick until healthy, backgrounds checked if a criminal sent back.They learned our language and only spoke their native language at home, the became U.S. Citizens by our laws. Compare that to people that run across our borders, refuse to speak english, demand rights want to get ahead of the people that are trying to become U.S. citizens the legal way then call people racist or Xenophobs if they don’t get their way.

    — wade
  7. 7. October 23, 2007 4:25 pm Link

    What is lost in this discussion is that having a drivers license is a privilege earned by a citizen of this country. Not a rite given to “ILLEGAL” immigrants just because they are here. The governor needs to use his energy to help his country fight the invasion from the south. Remember “we” are the government

    — Robert Adler
  8. 8. October 23, 2007 4:26 pm Link

    #2 “Because driver’s licenses are used as identification for American citizens and allows them to do things that only American citizens can do…such as vote.”

    Since when do New Yorkers need a driver’s license to vote? You don’t show any ID when you go to vote — they ask you to sign your voter registration card and they (supposedly) check the signatures to make sure they match. Moreover, plenty of non-citizens who are permanent residents have drivers licenses and that does not make them eligible to vote.

    — Melissa
  9. 9. October 23, 2007 4:29 pm Link

    New York will become the Mecca for every illegal alien in the United States in order to get that priceless document, a New York State driver’s license. Then, they will return to the state they came from and under DMV reciprocal agreements turn in the license to obtain one in their “home” state. Other states will get caught up in New York’s foolish folly. Then they will be able to register for Social Security, obtain social services and vote and the list will go on and on because they have established themselves.

    — Uncomfortably Numb
  10. 10. October 23, 2007 5:32 pm Link

    At least Gov. Spitzer has time to “re-invent” himdelf from this folly. Once illegals have a license, they have it all and will not “stick out” (which is what their defenders want!!)from the rest of us legals.. We have to understand if you do something illegal it ha to be reversed. Just as if someone cheats on taxes, they pay it back and promise to not trangress the laws, so too if you come to this country illegally, you must leave the country and come back legally!!

    I just wonder if I go to Mexico illegally, if they will let me have a drivers license or for that matter would they give me emergency helth care or an emergency hospital stay!!

    — Manny
  11. 11. October 23, 2007 5:42 pm Link

    Its interesting what one reader wrote that any illegal can go to another state with the reciprocal rules and get a licence and then get a Social security number under that state’s laws. Also, any illegal can come from ANY state and get a licence too with minimum paperwork.

    By the way, can you walk a block in NYC without seeing groups of illegals? I believe there are over ONE MILLION + illegals in the New York area So - if illegals (and this is counting only the illegals from this area only, and I am sure if the illegals are to be allowed to have licenses they will come from all over the US to get a license)are allowed to apply for Drivers licenses they will crowd our NYS DMV offices and probaly over-run them, just as the illegals have over-run our emergency rooms and there are waits for many hours for the taxpayers that pay the bills!!

    — mendy
  12. 12. October 23, 2007 5:44 pm Link

    I think Spitzer wants these illegals to vote for him in 2010 election and once these illegals get licenses there is no stopping them from voting …

    — lisa
  13. 13. October 23, 2007 8:43 pm Link

    It would seem that identifying illegals is a good thing. of course, they should have been identified already, but I digress…
    On the other hand, there is something unseemly about giving state documents to people who really should not have them. “Illegal” immigrants is the term.

    So, is this a typical democrat slippery slope, driver’s license’s now, voting next? None of these problems has an easy answer.

    — camel jockey
  14. 14. October 24, 2007 12:02 am Link

    The Republican party is determined to make itself hateful for all generations of Latinos to come, and doing a terrific job at it.

    No matter how much sense a piece of policy makes. If it benefits undocumented people, they oppose.
    Keep at it and leave really important pieces of legislation aside.

    That Mexican willing to wash your dishes is the top problem NY has. And preventing him from safely driving around, a sacred call.

    What other option the opponents to this measure propose? The statu quo, in which people will drive to work anyway, only unsafely, uninsured and fearing being stopped?

    Mongo
    http://www.itsnofun.com

    — Mongo Aurelio
  15. 15. October 24, 2007 4:31 am Link

    No, you can not vote with just a drivers license. Its amazing how uninformed these anti-illegals are. Drivers Licenses are not solely for United Stats citizens. They can be issued to other people such as legal immigrants! Courtney, Robert Alder,lisa and Uncomfortably Numb are all discredited. Maybe it shouldn’t be the undocumented workers that are deported; it should be these anti-illegal fanatics that spread the fud that get the boot.

    — hacp
  16. 16. October 24, 2007 11:56 am Link

    hcap, take a look at a voter registration card before you call others misinformed.

    What is the only piece of information it asks for to make sure you are eligible? A Social Security number OR a Drivers License number.

    — Rich Alicea
  17. 17. October 24, 2007 12:54 pm Link

    #10 and #12: It’s NOT possible to turn in a NY driver license for one in another state without additional documentation. Other states require not only the out of state license but identity verification like a US passport or birth certificate, and also proof of Social Security number. So any undocumented immigrants getting a NY driver license would still be unable to transfer it to another state.

    — David Alpert
  18. 18. October 24, 2007 12:59 pm Link

    The terrorists have won. They ripped our country apart. We’re polarized.

    Americans are very short sighted.

    Every single thing this country and state does is a fear based reaction to 9/11. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are right.

    The illegal immigrants escaped with the clothes on their backs in hope of finding a job that pays minimum wage. They escaped torture, poverty, political imprisonment. They were unwillingly kidnapped for trade as sex slaves trade. They work in sweatshops chained to the sewing machines. They escape from disaster, weather destruction and waring guerillas.

    Do you believe these poeple are here to harm us?

    The mad-men who destroyed our country on 9/11 were here legally.

    — Maria
  19. 19. October 24, 2007 7:17 pm Link

    Rich Alicea,
    You need to be a citizen to vote. If you have a drivers license but aren’t a citizen, you can’t vote. A drivers license isn’t a citizenship card. A social security number is not a citizenship number. Please ask an immigrant friend or neighbor if he or she can vote with just a drivers license.
    You are another discredited misinformed anti-illegal stalwart. Its clueless people like you that got Bush into the White House, and in the end, made the US a disaster.

    — hacp
  20. 20. October 25, 2007 10:08 am Link

    Actually, I didn’t vote for Bush, but nice try.

    Yes, I realize that you need to be a citizen to vote, but you are the misinformed one here. What you don’t realize is that there are no safeguards to prevent non-citizens from registering. If you really trust the Board of Elections to check, then I feel bad for you. You DO NOT need to prove you are a citizen in order to register, only provide a license number or SS number.

    By the way, I’m proud to be anti-illegal. Too bad you are dumb enough to think that’s an insult to me.

    — Rich Alicea

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