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Just What is Eliot Spitzer Thinking?

Eliot Spitzer is the new Governor of New York. Yet, five years after the attacks of September 11th he now finds himself in the middle of a controversy created by one of his own campaign statements that he would allow immigrants to secure a New York State driver’s license without showing a valid and trackable Social Security card. Aside from the fact that this is in contradiction to the provisions of the Real ID Act of 2005 (“the Act”), the thought is incredible.

Now, even though the Act is now in dispute by a number of states, largely because of “privacy concerns” and the costs associated with adopting it, the provisions of the Act state that the minimum issuance standards are:

A) A photo identity document, except that a non-photo identity document is acceptable if it includes both the person's full legal name and date of birth.

B) Documentation showing the person's date of birth.

C) Proof of the person's social security account number or verification that the person is not eligible for a social security account number.

D) Documentation showing the person's name and address of principal residence.

Additionally, there is a concern that the new ID will become the defacto National ID card. Note that the link to the EPIC analysis, National ID Cards and REAL ID Act contains a lengthy list of references.

Still, Spitzer repeatedly, expressed support for the licensing of all New York drivers regardless of their immigration status and last week:

...immigrant advocacy groups met in Albany with David J. Swarts, the new motor vehicles commissioner, to press for new rules. They want the state to accept documents like foreign passports as proof of identity without also requiring a valid yearlong visa or other evidence of legal immigration status, a policy that state motor vehicles offices adopted in 2004.

This represents a good comparison of the two points of view on this issue (by the respective proponents): Immigrant advocates renew push for driver's licenses

Point: "This is an issue that has only grown in urgency with time," said Amy Sugimori, director of the New York City community organization La Fuente. Denied licenses, more immigrants will drive without insurance, she said, and police will lose a potential means to track their identity. Sugimori is part of a coalition holding a forum about the issue Feb. 3 in Manhattan. Spitzer and David Swartz, acting commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, are invited.

"We agree they do need to get secure identification documents from individuals, but we think they don't have to check immigration status in order to do that," she said. Some states allow foreign IDs as part of the application process.

Counterpoint: Opponents disagree, and are lobbying to keep driver's licenses away from people they regard as potential terrorists. They are bolstered by the federal Real ID Act taking effect next year, which orders states to deny driver's licenses to those who cannot prove legal immigration status.

"To think that we would put out the welcome mat to terrorists and illegal aliens five years after 9/11 is in my opinion, unconscionable," said Assemblyman Greg Ball, R-Carmel.

The question of whether or not there will be or should be a National ID card is a subject for another time, but could well be a moot point if the drivers licenses end up having uniform security features. Regardless, counterfeit documents continue to play a critical role in our Nation’s security and in our war against terrorism. At least 13 of the 19 September 11th hijackers carried counterfeit or forged drivers’ licenses. Making it easier for a potential terrorist to secure a real drivers license without confirmation of a Social Security number is a serious problem. Of course, when you examine the situation closely, it is still not impossible for a person with a forged birth certificate to get a social security card.

The question is why would Governor Spitzer consider easing the requirements for qualifying for a New York State driver’s license? The simple response of wanting to make it easier for immigrants to drive to work is not enough. "The facts show that restricting immigrants' access to drivers' licenses does nothing to improve security," a spokeswoman for Mr. Spitzer, Christine Anderson, told the Associated Press. "All it does is drive immigrants into the shadows, creating a class of people with no public records." That is not a good enough reason to start issuing an identity card to anyone who wants one. Even though Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill on the matter back in 2004, the subject is still being debated in California.

Ask yourself this question. What form of identity is used when checking in at the airport to get a boarding pass? Most people probably use their drivers license.