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Elliot Spitzer and the New York Driver’s License Debate

elliot_spitzer0.jpgElliot Spitzer wants to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, which of course makes him the devil.

From the NYT:

Critics of Mr. Spitzer’s plan are trying to paint it as a threat to national security. But as the governor outlined in a speech on Friday, there are important ways in which the opposite is true. His plan would give faces and addresses to many of the one million people who are not here legally, who live in the shadows. It would also make it vastly more difficult for someone to get more than one license. Richard Clarke, an adviser under the last four presidents, mostly on national security issues, has said that making driver’s licenses available to immigrants regardless of their legal status would promote security because “it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads.”

The frustrations of the plan’s critics are understandable, but their quarrel is with Washington, which continues to avoid addressing the immigration problem head-on. Mr. Spitzer’s proposal for making driver’s licenses more broadly available is a calm injection of reason into a subject that has seen too little of it.

This debate is ridiculous. No matter where you stand on immigration, from a practical standpoint denying drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants only makes sense if your desire is to make their lives as miserable as possible:

Under Spitzer’s plan, starting in December DMV offices will begin carefully screening valid foreign passports using a new electronic verification system and, once verified (which can take up to four or six weeks), will then issue licenses to those who, along with the rest of those with valid immigration status, have passed the Driver’s Test and can provide proof of insurance. According to a report by the AAA, it’s clear the increase in driver regulation will reduce accidents; according to Spitzer, it will also save New York drivers around $120 million in insurance fees. It’s simple economics: once you increase supply (in this case of car insurance), the price of said insurance will go down. That’s good news for all New York drivers, particularly middle class ones increasingly affected by income inequality and skyrocketing insurance rates.

The Republican Party is certainly not loath to play the jingoism/bigot card, no matter what the social price tag is. It’s no coincidence that all the GOP candidates won’t get near debates that address the concerns of black voters, or that Rudy Giuliani (and his history with Abner Louima and others) is beloved by conservatives despite his pro-choice background.

I heard John McCain groveling (once again) before Wolf Blitzer yesterday, changing his tune on immigration and saying that his previous position had hurt him with the base. It was pathetic. Racism against undocumented workers is the mating call of the Lone Caucasian Wingnut, no matter what the cost is. McCain looked shameless as he crawled for breadcrumbs from the bigots.  Spitzer’s willingness to take that on (and earn their subsequent wrath) is laudatory.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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