11.15.2007

Spitzer Scraps License Plan and Calls for a National Immigration Fix

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has ended his controversial pursuit of licensing undocumented immigrant drivers. Instead, Spitzer is calling on the President and Congress to end the paralysis and pass a comprehensive solution to the nation's broken immigration system.

Here is the release:



Dear Gerry,

As you know, over the last two months, I have been advancing a proposal that I believe would improve the safety and security of the people of New York by addressing the fact that New York is home to one million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are driving on our roads unlicensed. After serious deliberation and consultation with people I respect on all sides of this issue, I have concluded that New York State cannot successfully address this problem on its own.

This morning I traveled to our nation’s capital to announce that I am withdrawing my proposal.

I chose to make this announcement in Washington, because ultimately, my original proposal was a response to the fact that the federal government has lost control of its borders, has allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to enter our country, and has no solution to deal with it.

When the federal government abdicates its responsibility, states, cities, towns and villages still have to deal with the practical reality of that failure.

Governors, Mayors and chiefs of police in every state face that reality every day in schools, hospitals, and on our roads. In New York, that reality means one million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are driving without a license and without insurance, live in the shadows -- out of reach of law enforcement.

A consequence of the federal failure to address illegal immigration is that Americans and New Yorkers are demanding a comprehensive solution. Piecemeal reform, even if practical, is unacceptable. It fails to address the many important, competing interests and values.

I underestimated that sentiment in putting forward this proposal.

I continue to believe that my proposal would have improved an unsatisfactory situation. But I have listened to the legitimate concerns of the public and those who would be affected by my proposal, and have concluded that pushing forward unilaterally in the face of such strong opposition would be counterproductive.

Beyond the crisis of illegal immigration that I have tried to address in some small way, please allow me this brief observation about another crisis – the crisis of political discourse in this country that was on full display these past two months.

While people of good faith opposed my plan for fair reasons, some partisans unleashed a response that has become all too familiar in American politics. In New York, forces quickly mobilized to prey on the public’s worst fears by turning what we believe is a practical security measure into a referendum on immigration.

Political opponents equated minimum-wage, undocumented dishwashers with Osama Bin Laden. Newspaper headlines equated a drivers’ license for an undocumented migrant laborers with a “Passport to Terror” and a “License to Kill.” Based on the New Yorkers I speak to each and every day, I feel confident in saying that this rhetoric is wildly out of step with mainstream values -- doing nothing to offer solutions and everything to exploit fear.

Nothing reflects the result of hyperpartisanship more than the current immigration debate, which has become so toxic that anytime a practical proposal is put forward, it is shot down before it can even be weighed on its merits.

The consequence of this fear-mongering is paralysis.

Here are the facts:

Tomorrow, undocumented workers will not stop driving.

The federal government is not going to deport one million undocumented workers from New York by the end of this year, any more than it did last year or the year before.

And we can be sure that those who beat their chests the loudest will still have no solution at all.

As attorney general, I often had to step into the enormous vacuum left by a federal government that did not embrace its most fundamental responsibilities. Whether it was ensuring fair play in the markets, protecting the environment, enforcing labor laws or product safety, time and again, the attorney general’s office was forced to step into the void left by federal inaction.

As governor, it has not been much different. Whether it’s health care, climate change, education or, in this case immigration, states are feeling the brunt of federal abdication and conscious neglect of a problem that is crying out for a solution.

But what I have learned here is that, while there are times when states should be laboratories, immigration is not one of them. It’s too complex and too macro a challenge to be solved by a patchwork of state policies. But the reality of 14 million undocumented immigrants nationwide and one million in New York isn’t going away. So my challenge to the federal government is this: fix it. Fix the problem so the states won’t face the local impact.

With that, I look forward to getting back to an agenda that addresses the needs of all New Yorkers.

Governor Eliot Spitzer