New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer declared his entire state a sanctuary for illegal immigrants with last week’s announcement that anybody who shows up at the Department of Motor Vehicles is entitled to a New York driver’s license. This exceedingly ill-advised policy shift not only compromises the safety of all New Yorkers, but potentially endangers every American.
State-issued driver’s licenses are now de facto identity cards used for much more than driving. The underlying assumption is that the state has checked and double-checked the holder’s true identity, which is why they’re useful for airlines, banks, credit card and car rental companies, landlords and retail establishments. When driver’s licenses are handed out to anybody who applies, that assumption is no longer valid.
This is exactly what happened with the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, who used at least 35 driver’s licenses to travel, rent rooms and access cash undetected while they planned their murderous attack.
In response to the devastation in Manhattan, former New York Gov. George Pataki tightened the rules. Applicants who could not produce a valid Social Security number had to present a formal letter of eligibility from the Social Security Administration instead. Such letters are not issued to undocumented immigrants.
Thanks to Spitzer, one of the nation’s toughest licensing procedures has now become one of the most lenient. New York joins eight other states that refuse to require proof of legal status to obtain a driver’s license. The public is supposed to believe that low-level DMV officials will be able to verify millions of official-looking documents issued by more than 140 foreign governments. We do so at our peril.
Spitzer’s excuse for this inexcusable policy change is that it will increase highway safety. But Peter Gadiel, president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, noted that Tennessee and North Carolina tried the same thing — with disastrous results.
In both states, licensed illegal immigrants were involved in a disproportionate number of fatal crashes, and many had canceled their insurance to avoid paying the premiums.
A chagrined Tennessee Legislature repealed the illegal licensing law only two years after passing it in 2004.
Officials in states such as New York who still stubbornly refuse to enforce reasonable security measures should pay a price. The federal government should cut off all Department of Homeland Security funding to these self-designated “sanctuary” states and reject their driver’s licenses as proof of anything.