Why are certain county clerks in NY vowing to disobey Governor Spitzer’s law allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses? Like all opposition to illegal immigration, it’s a matter of firm principle: illegal immigrants did not follow our laws and thus came here illegally!
Other county and state officials are jumping on the bandwagon because they know that the vast majority of Americans are extremely ill-informed and quite likely bigoted in their view of immigrants (legal or illegal) and the potential of pandering to that ignorance is limitless.
State Senator James Seward, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, County Clerk Indica Jaycox, Board of Supervisors Chairman Earl Van Wormer and Sheriff John Bates lined up at a recent press conference to issue the standard canned condemnations of illegal immigrants. Are there so many illegal immigrants in Schoharie County that all of our officials and representatives must speak out in this manner? Maybe it's just election-year politics. Nothin' gets the voters excited like some good old fashioned nativist fear-mongering.
Despite the hue and cry over the issue, there are good reasons for the law and the facts support it. Here are some examples of the widespread distortions of reality on this issue.
“This plan makes it easier, far easier, for driver’s licenses to fall into the wrong hands, like those of potential terrorists,” said Kathleen Marchione, the Saratoga County clerk who is the president of the New York State Association of County Clerks.
Yes, but the 9/11 hi-jackers did not need drivers licenses to board planes on 9/11. They were here on visas and could have gotten on the planes using their passports, which all of them had. If anything, having official drivers licenses will allow potential terrorists to be tracked bringing them out of the shadows, if they’re dumb enough to get one and use it. The claim that this law makes us more vulnerable to terrorism is simply not true. Further, despite the concerns of a few county clerks across the state, the 9/11 commission did not recommend denying licenses to unauthorized immigrants.
But instead of discussion based on facts, this is what you get from Republicans in the age of Bush and the Patriot Act:
Senator Vincent L. Leibell, an upstate Republican, declared that under the proposal, Osama bin Laden could obtain a driver’s license in New York.
As for the benefits of the law, statewide insurance costs could drop by as much as $120 million dollars a year (only about 15 dollars per person). However, if an undocumented immigrant crashes into you or your car, whether or not they have auto insurance could determine whether or not you actually see any money for your injuries or property damage.
There’s also the argument that by issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants they will be forced to take road tests and written tests which will make roads safer. In all fairness, there’s been no research demonstrating that this will in fact make roads safer. But I’d personally wager that we'd all benefit by having all drivers taking the time to learn the rules of the road before they get behind the wheel. Maybe a provision that undocumented immigrants take drivers ed or defensive driving courses before getting the license would help to ensure that this actually does increase safety.
Regardless of the facts surrounding this issue, there’s simply way too much noise. We have a political climate that thrives on fear and suspicion, and this just gives politicians a license to pander. A recent Siena Poll shows that over 70 percent of New Yorkers oppose this law. Oh well, according to polls, half of America still believes America actually found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.