- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

New York’s governor announced yesterday that illegal aliens will soon be able to get state driver’s licenses, drawing a strong rebuke from families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks who said he is opening a window to another attack.

The new rules reverse a 2002 policy designed to correct one of the flaws identified after the terrorist attacks — easy access to driver’s licenses, which allowed illegal aliens to blend into society and would-be terrorists to avoid detection. But Gov. Eliot Spitzer said he thinks the state can have both secure driver’s licenses and a system that draws illegal aliens into the system rather than punishing them.

The governor expects the plan to reduce insurance costs, and he said the reality is that illegal aliens are already here and that “allowing them the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses in a responsible and secure manner will help increase public safety.”

But the rules infuriated those looking for a crackdown on illegal immigration, including relatives of victims of the 2001 attack.

“Obviously one 9/11 isn’t enough for Spitzer,” said Peter Gadiel, whose son died in the attack and who is president of the 9/11 Families for a Secure America. “People are going to die.”

The issue is also bound to get caught up in presidential politics, with two New Yorkers, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, running for their parties’ nominations. Neither candidate’s office returned messages yesterday asking where they stood on the new plan.

Groups that lobby for legal immigrants’ and illegal aliens’ rights said the move is the first sign that they are regaining their footing after this year’s defeat of a broad bill in Congress to legalize illegal aliens.

“The new policy proves that it’s indeed possible to expand access while improving security,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “For immigrant New Yorkers whose lives were devastated because they could no longer drive to work or drive their children to school, today is a day to celebrate.”

Nationwide, states are mixed on the policy, with some moving toward more lax requirements for illegal aliens and others restricting access. Some states have opted for a two-tier policy, with legal residents able to get driver’s licenses and illegal aliens eligible only for certificates that are not supposed to be used as IDs.

Backers of the new rules said they are designed to make illegal aliens’ lives easier while weeding out fraudulent driver’s license requests.

The new policy will apply only to those with a valid foreign passport, which officials hope will cut down on fraud. Machine-readable passports can be scanned at the Department of Motor Vehicles once the policy goes into effect, but non-readable passports will be sent to a central processing office to be checked.

Applicants will also have to show other documents, though the state is not yet releasing a full list of the 14 documents that will be accepted. A combination of documents will be required to prove identity.

New York first will invite more than 150,000 people to reapply who used to have licenses but had to give them up because they no longer qualified under the 2002 policy. Months later, other New Yorkers who never had a license and don’t qualify under the current rules will be allowed to apply.

Police and state homeland security officials said the new policy will allow them to put more names into databases, make it easier to track down security threats and make illegal aliens more likely to report criminals who prey on them.

But Michael W. Cutler, a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, said it opens a loophole for fraud and that it’s tough enough to verify U.S.-issued birth certificates, much less foreign documents.

He also said a driver’s license is the key to being able to live undetected in the U.S. and that Mr. Spitzer’s new rules will aid illegal aliens trying to do that.

“It’s almost a de facto sanctuary,” Mr. Cutler said. “Driver’s licenses enable people to do more than drive. They establish people’s identity when they write a check, do banking, get on airplanes.”

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