Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer may have abandoned his plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he expects New York to live up to Real ID security standards for the rest of the state’s licenses anyway.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Chertoff told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from London today. “We obviously never agreed with the idea of giving illegals driver’s licenses and so we welcome New York’s decision to abandon moving forward on that. As far as Real ID, we were pleased New York signed the agreement to move forward with that. The agreement is still in force.”

Real ID sets national standards for licenses to be used for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane. The goal was to make licenses secure documents and prevent illegal aliens from getting identification, but Real ID has become the latest flashpoint in the immigration debate, with opponents saying it amounts to a national identification system and discriminates against immigrants.

That’s why all eyes were on Mr. Spitzer.

This morning he said he was abandoning his plan to issue licenses to illegal aliens, telling reporters in Washington that he just wasn’t able to find enough support and blaming President Bush for failing to achieve a federal solution to immigration.

He announced his license plan six weeks ago and, after the initial backlash, sought to boost support by also agreeing to comply with Real ID, a federal law set in 2005.

Under that plan, New York would have issued several tiers of licenses one to illegal aliens, marked as unusable for federal purposes; one to most residents; and an enhanced version that meets the international travel requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

But embracing Real ID didn’t win Mr. Spitzer any new supporters and ended up costing him the support of immigrant rights groups who are fighting Real ID and who said Mr. Spitzer’s move was propping the law up.

Yesterday, they said they expect Mr. Spitzer to now withdraw his support for Real ID standards.

“The silver lining here is that the governor is also backing off on adopting federal Real ID standards, which pose a serious threat to Americans civil liberties,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

But in adopting Real ID Mr. Spitzer signed an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, and Mr. Chertoff says that agreement remains in effect.

“The agreement commits them to moving forward,” Mr. Chertoff said.

An official in Mr. Spitzer’s office, speaking on background, said they don’t quite see it that way.

“We take this federal mandate very seriously, but this process has shown that we must have a real discussion about this issue,” the official said. “The legislature and other stakeholders will have to be heard on this matter.”

The official said New York would continue to move ahead with enhanced driver’s licenses to meet requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

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