Aliens’ li­censes un­safe po­lit­i­cally at any speed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Stephen Di­nan

Wher­ever it’s been tried, em­brac­ing driver’s li­censes for il­le­gal aliens — as Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton and most of the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial field did two weeks ago — has been po­lit­i­cal poi­son, in­clud­ing help­ing cost one Demo­cratic gov­er­nor his of­fice.

Ever since the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, law­mak­ers who back li­censes for il­le­gal aliens have suf­fered, such as Gray Davis, the for­mer Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor who was re­called in part be­cause he signed such a bill. Those who have called for crack­downs are reap­ing the po­lit­i­cal re­wards.

“It’s a win­ner in a gen­eral elec­tion; I think it’s an ab­so­lute win­ner in a Repub­li­can pri­mary; and I think it’s a win­ner even in many states in a Demo­cratic pri­mary,” said Rico Oller, the for­mer Cal­i­for­nia state sen­a­tor who spon­sored the bill to re­peal the driver’s li­cense law Mr. Davis signed.

The is­sue has come to the fore-

front since New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Demo­crat, an­nounced in Septem­ber that his state would be­gin to is­sue li­censes to il­le­gal aliens who could present a valid pass­port from their home coun­try.

At a Demo­cratic de­bate, Mrs. Clin­ton fum­bled on whether she sup­ported her gov­er­nor, but a day later her cam­paign an­nounced that she gen­er­ally backs the plan.

“We broadly sup­port what Spitzer is do­ing,” said spokesman Phil Singer. “Ob­vi­ously, there are de­tails that still need to be worked out, but our sense is that in light of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fail­ure to pass com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form and deal with the im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis, there are many states that are act­ing.”

Her stance has won her sup­port from those who say it’s time to re­take the ini­tia­tive af­ter years of set­backs.

“All the can­di­dates are ei­ther avoid­ing the is­sue or only ad­dress­ing it par­tially or jump­ing on the anti-im­mi­grant band­wagon,” said Chung-Wha Hong, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York Im­mi­gra­tion Coali­tion. “The driver’s li­cense is­sue has hurled this chal­lenge to the fore­front of the pres­i­den­tial de­bate.”

Ms. Hong said Mrs. Clin­ton must fill the po­lit­i­cal vac­uum and re­verse the pol­i­tics of the is­sue.

“It’s a tough is­sue. It’s con­tro­ver­sial, but lead­ers need to use their po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal to take the poi­son out of this de­bate so that peo­ple are de­bat­ing the sub­stance,” she said.

Those who back the li­censes say the is­sue should be an easy sell: They say it’s bet­ter to have li­censed driv­ers on the roads, and say hav­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion makes their job eas­ier. And it’s not just Democrats who sup­port the pol­icy: as gov­er­nor of Florida, Jeb Bush backed the pol­icy.

Seven states al­low il­le­gal aliens to get a driver’s per­mit of some sort: Hawaii, Maine, Michi­gan, New Mex­ico, Ore­gon, Utah and Wash­ing­ton.

Just a few years ago, many oth­ers al­lowed the prac­tice. But af­ter the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, states be­gan to crack down, led by Vir­ginia, which had is­sued li­censes to some of the hi­jack­ers.

“It’s a 90 per­cent po­lit­i­cal win­ner,” said Vir­ginia Del­e­gate David B. Albo, who wrote the bill and said it was an easy call since 14 of the vic­tims killed at the Pen­tagon came from his leg­isla­tive dis­trict. “The crim­i­nals used our lax laws to board the air­planes.”

His crack­down leg­is­la­tion has been copied by other states, and even the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has tried to crack down, pass­ing the Real ID Act in 2005 that sets fed­eral stan­dards for state li­censes, in­clud­ing the re­quire­ment that re­cip­i­ents be in the coun­try legally.

Exit polls af­ter Cal­i­for­nia’s 2003 re­call elec­tion found vot­ers op­posed li­censes by 70 per­cent to 24 per­cent and that those who op­posed li­censes over­whelm­ingly sup­ported Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s ouster of Mr. Davis.

Cal­i­for­nia state Sen. Gil­bert Cedillo, a Demo­crat, has tried sev­eral times since 2003 to pass a bill grant­ing li­censes. Each time, Mr. Sch­warzeneg­ger has ve­toed it.

“You need lead­ers like Eliot Spitzer who says, ‘Hey, this doesn’t make any sense,’ ” Mr. Cedillo said. “He’s say­ing what peo­ple have to say dur­ing th­ese time pe­ri­ods of hys­te­ria. This is a witch hunt. It’s a witch hunt that’s hurt­ing us.”

Mr. Cedillo saw a dif­fer­ent les­son in Mr. Davis’ 2003 re­call loss. He said in ad­di­tion to other prob­lems, such as botch­ing the state’s elec­tric­ity dereg­u­la­tion, Mr. Davis flipflopped on li­censes by promis­ing to sign a mea­sure but, when given the chance in his first term, ve­to­ing a care­fully crafted bill.

That, Mr. Cedillo said, cost him sup­port among His­pan­ics in his 2002 re-elec­tion cam­paign and helped make him vul­ner­a­ble for the re­call. Then, just weeks be­fore the re­call vote, Mr. Davis re­versed course and signed a mea­sure that had fewer se­cu­rity mea­sures.

Mr. Cedillo said this isn’t the first time that this fight has hap­pened. The first bill to strip li­censes from il­le­gal aliens came in 1994, the last time that an anti-il­le­gal alien sen­ti­ment grabbed Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers, and which helped Gov. Pete Wil­son, a Repub­li­can, win re-elec­tion.

But it was all down­hill for Repub­li­cans since.

“Pete Wil­son be­came the fig­ure Democrats could run against. And all they had to say was ‘Pete Wil­son,’ and the Latino vote was 90 per­cent Demo­crat in that time pe­riod,” Mr. Cedillo said. “It be­came a point at which there was value for Democrats in terms of pol­i­tics to be against that type of dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

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