Spitzer policy granting licenses to illegal immigrants is coming under
By Tom Precious, NEWS ALBANY BUREAU
Posted: October 9, 2007
Number of critics to governor’s plan grows as questions continue
on insurance costs, terrorism and common sense .
Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer’s new policy that permits illegal immigrants
to obtain New York State driver’s licenses is “an absurd” decision
that will provide a new gateway for terrorists, a member of the
federal commission that investigated the 2001 World Trade Center
“It’s a perfect formula for al-Qaida. They won’t be able to
resist it. They will be able to come to New York,” said John
Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy who served on the 9/11
Commission that warned of the nation’s vulnerabilities to terrorist
Lehman joins a growing number of critics of the new Spitzer
policy, including two mayors involved in the recovery of the
9/11 attacks — Rudy Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg — and
an assortment of law enforcement officials, Republicans and
In an interview Saturday with The Buffalo News, Lehman said
the state is undermining the many efforts made to improve security
in New York City since 2001.
“It is not logical,” he said of the Spitzer policy, adding:
“As we know, New York is target number one.”
Spitzer’s plan “is going to make life easier for illegals,”
especially terrorists, counterfeiters and others who will have
easy access to a valuable piece of identification, Lehman said.
Lehman also said the policy will put New York at odds with
a looming federal identification program recommended by his
commission, which noted how valuable identification cards are
for terrorists in moving cash and traveling.
“It’s going to become a magnet to lawbreakers because the surrounding
states will adhere to the federal standards,” he said. “So,
New York becomes a sanctuary for al-Qaida and all sorts of other
people on the lam.”
When he announced his new policy, Spitzer said it would make
roads safer, get more drivers insured, provide a better accounting
of people living in the state and bolster the state’s security
in a post-September 11 world.
But the new policy, set to take effect in December, also includes
components that could dissuade undocumented immigrants from
rushing to the program. For instance, federal immigration officials
could subpoena the state’s license records to track down illegal
aliens, state officials concede.
While the Spitzer administration touts an expected $120 million
drop in insurance costs because more people will be covered
by policies, the savings for legal residents will add up to
about $15 annually on a $1,000 policy.
Moreover, because they lack Social Security numbers used in
running credit checks, illegal aliens likely would be dissuaded
from buying insurance because they would end up paying expensive
premiums, insurance company executives said. Though more drivers
would be insured under the Spitzer policy, it remains uncertain
what the impact will be on reducing accidents, traffic safety
And in a state especially sensitive to terrorist attacks, the
new policy is raising the eyebrows of federal agents who patrol
the borders, district attorneys and other law enforcement officials.
While most illegal aliens end up leading productive lives,
law enforcement officials say they worry the policy could make
it easier for terrorists to get their hands on a valuable form
of identification that is used to open bank accounts, board
airplanes and gain access to some public buildings.
“We are a border county,” Erie County District Attorney Frank
Clark said. “My first concern is: Are we at conflict with any
federal statutes and are we somehow lessening the trust and
confidence people have in the New York driver’s license, which,
as we all know, when anybody asks you for ID, they ask for a
Along the northern border, another district attorney is less
Border and immigration officials from northern New York to
Buffalo have expressed concerns about the new policy, said Derek
Champagne, the Franklin County district attorney.
Police along the borders are able to search vehicles if they
stop someone without a license, Champagne said, and that has
led to major drug busts and breaking up illegal-alien smuggling
“I don’t think any of us want to be in a situation where something
horrific happens and they were able to gain access because of
one of these licenses,” he said.
Officially, federal border and homeland security agencies are
withholding judgment, for now.
The policy, though, is raising complaints among Border Patrol
agents working on the front lines.
“We have strong feelings against any proposal that will provide
illegal immigrants with enticements to enter a state and hide
in plain sight,” said T.J. Bonner, president of the National
Border Patrol Council, the union that represents about 10,000
Border Patrol agents. “There’s no doubt this would hamper homeland
Bonner predicted the policy would make New York State a sanctuary
for undocumented aliens. In fact, New York Motor Vehicles Commissioner
David Swarts last week said his agency is gearing up for an
expected rush of applications by illegal immigrants. The agency,
for instance, is hiring 20 additional driving-test workers.
“If you reward this kind of behavior, you can expect to see
it repeated over and over again,” Bonner said.
He noted that, of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 2001, all but
one had a driver’s license that gave them a form of ID to use
as they planned their plot. Similarly, terrorists could get
a New York driver’s license and use it to have “disastrous effects
in other parts of the country,” he said.
The Spitzer administration says critics are ignoring that the
state will bolster its anti-fraud efforts at DMV offices with
new technologies to check identifications that they insist will
make the New York license the nation’s most secure.
But the administration would not say if it ran the new policy
in advance past federal homeland security officials.
At home, local officials are upset they had no input.
“We were caught flat-footed by all this, to be honest,” Clark
said. He said the policy “was thrust on us without any dialogue,
and that was disconcerting to everybody.”
Spitzer said critics ignore the reality that illegal immigrants
are here — up to one million in New York — and are already driving.
His policy envisions getting those people to take written and
road tests to get licensed and then insured if they own a car.
That, he says, will improve traffic safety.
But safety experts said they have no idea if the governor’s
plan will actually cut the number of accidents.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, highly respected
in the industry, has no position on the Spitzer policy, said
spokesman Russ Rader, “because there’s no research to base an
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal
agency; the American Automobile Association; and the Advocates
for Highway and Auto Safety, all declined to comment about the
effectiveness of the new policy for New York.
The Spitzer administration also says the plan will help all
drivers by lowering insurance premiums. The more insured drivers,
the fewer accidents involving drivers with no coverage. That
cuts costs, said David Neustadt, an insurance department spokesman.
At Progressive Insurance, spokeswoman Leah Knapp said the only
condition in New York for insurance eligibility is a driver’s
“The driver produces the license, we provide the quote. We
will ask for a Social Security number when we provide a quote
so that we can give the most accurate rate possible, but we
will quote and provide coverage without it. However, in those
cases, the consumer might not get the absolute best rate we
have to offer,” she said.
Article at: buffalonews.com