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Spitzer License Plan Similar to Pataki Policy

Oct 22, 2007

By Joie Tyrrell, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Oct. 23--Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposed loosening of driver's license rules for undocumented immigrants has triggered statewide controversy, but it actually would move the state closer to a policy in effect during most of the Pataki administration.

Under Spitzer's plan, undocumented immigrants could more easily get licenses. They would need to provide a valid foreign passport and state that they have no Social Security number.

While Spitzer has said the plan would make roads safer and cut car insurance premiums for everyone, critics have said it would compromise security by eliminating the Department of Motor Vehicles' requirement that applicants prove their immigration status. That requirement was instituted in 2003 by then-Gov. George Pataki.

Pataki made his change with no formal announcement, in contrast to Spitzer, who has defended his proposal in speeches statewide.

Pataki's 2003 changes sought to tighten regulations that had been put into place earlier in his governorship -- in 1995.

That earlier change had nothing to do with illegal immigration. It was made to improve collection of child support payments by tracking people's Social Security numbers, Spitzer's office said.

In 1995, the state began to require that motorists without Social Security numbers show proof they could not get the number. Applicants had to show a Social Security Administration form stating the applicant did not have a Social Security number and was not entitled to one.

Then, in 2003, Pataki tightened the rules.

Applicants who did not have Social Security numbers would still be eligible for licenses even if they showed they legitimately could not get numbers.

But under the change, applicants had to show not just the letter of ineligibility, but also immigration documents proving their lawful presence status.

"If you didn't have that from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], then you wouldn't be able to get a driver's license," said Foster Maer, an attorney with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. "It was under the guise of making sure you weren't entitled to a Social Security number, but in fact it was a backdoor way of requiring status."

Spitzer now wants to loosen the way applicants prove they can't get Social Security numbers. They will no longer have to prove their immigration status.

And they will only need to affirm -- but under penalty of perjury -- that they have no Social Security number and that they are ineligible for one. They then can provide the DMV with identity documents, including valid foreign passports.

The first move under Spitzer's policy will be to invite reapplications by more than 150,000 people who lost licenses under Pataki's 2003 rule change. Those who never had a license and didn't qualify under the current rules will be allowed to apply months later.

The DMV estimates that 300,000 to 600,000 unlicensed residents would be eligible for licenses.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

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