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EDITORIAL: Driver's Licenses Bring Illegals into the Open

Oct 30, 2007

By The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Oct. 31--New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is the latest public servant to get sucked into the quicksand that envelopes illegal immigration.

How many must be engulfed before Congress musters the courage to acknowledge that this issue will not be solved at the extremes of political discourse or piecemeal by localities or the states?

Politicians and talk-show hosts (read: CNN's Lou Dobbs) who line up with one side or the other in the debate, and ignore or belittle the legitimate arguments of their opponents, get the satisfaction of reaping votes or ratings.

But whether such folk are pro- or anti-immigration, they will never totally prevail, because there are simply too many legitimate people and arguments with contrary viewpoints.

Example No. 2,543 comes from New York, where Dobbs and other critics have recently been up in arms over an administrative policy change allowing New Yorkers to apply for state driver's licenses without regard to immigration status.

As a September press release from Spitzer's office put it: "The DMV estimates that tens of thousands of undocumented, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are currently on New York's roads, contributing to increased accidents and hit-and-runs as well as higher auto insurance rates."

Spitzer's backers in law enforcement and elsewhere lined up to say that issuing licenses to the undocumented would result in safer driving, lower auto insurance costs and enhanced security, since police could get a better handle on who's actually in the state.

Then came the uproar from, among many others, Dobbs, who has since apologized for calling Spitzer an "idiot," but not for branding him arrogant, spineless and "a spoiled, rich kid brat."

Such discourse no doubt helped bring Spitzer to position No. 2, announced Saturday in Washington, D.C., with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at his side. Under the new rendition, New York will move forward with its plan to license undocumented immigrants, but will do so as part of a three-tiered system also embracing the controversial "REAL ID."

REAL ID, which is supposed to be phased in by 2013, would create a secure national identification card for flying on airplanes and other federal purposes. Civil libertarians decry the creation of a national database and state officials protest the multibillion-dollar cost, which so far is being left mostly to the states.

Under Spitzer's revision, New Yorkers will get to choose from a passport-equivalent "Enhanced Driver's License" for crossing from New York to Canada, a federally approved license to fly on planes or a standard license for driving and identification purposes. Illegals could qualify for the third.

A new group of critics is lining up to denounce this "solution" as a sham under which everyone but illegals would take options 1 and 2, leaving category 3 as an unused no-man's-land.

How all this will sort out over the next few months is anyone's guess. After Sept. 11, 2001, when several of the terrorist hijackers turned out to have Virginia driver's licenses, Virginia tightened the rules for licenses, hoping to expel illegal immigrants from our midst. Ask the folks in Prince William County how well that's worked.

Day in, day out the fight over illegal immigration is ripping at the soul of the nation. It cannot be mended by a thousand needles and scissors, often snipping and stitching at cross purposes. Only Congress can repair this rift.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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