Efforts to provide identification for undocumented immigrants nationwide lurched forward and backwards yesterday.
In anticipation of overwhelming opposition from New York legislators and courts, Gov. Eliot Spitzer last night said he plans to abandon a highly controversial proposal to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, San Francisco became the second city to issue municipal IDs, following on the heels of New Haven’s own Elm City Resident Card program, which was enacted over the summer.
Spitzer will announce his decision today to New York’s congressional delegation, according to The Associated Press. Since the proposal emerged in September, Spitzer’s approval ratings have tumbled, The New York Times reported yesterday. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has also recently drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans for vacillating on her opinion of the new license.
According to a Tuesday Siena College poll of 625 New York state voters, 70 percent of New Yorkers opposed Spitzer’s license plan. Terrorists would have an easier time obtaining identification and endangering the city, opponents said.
In a compromise effort to save the license plan, Spitzer said last month that New York would issue three different types of state driver’s licenses: an “enhanced” license that would double as a passport, a second-tier license for boarding airplanes and a third that would be available to undocumented immigrants.
But the compromise was not enough to thwart opposition. Spitzer yesterday came to the conclusion that critics would inevitably challenge the card — should it pass — from many fronts: in the form of legal challenges, the New York legislature’s withholding of Department of Motor Vehicles funding or resistance on the part of county clerks to enforce the new license law.
“Part of leadership is listening to the public’s opposition,” Spitzer said to The New York Times on Tuesday. “Having heard that, and assessed the realities of implementing this policy, part of leadership is realizing that getting results is more important than sticking to what may be a principled position.”
On the opposite coast, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a municipal ID card program. Like the Elm City Resident Card, a San Francisco municipal ID card will serve as a library card and primary identification at participating banks and retailers, among other amenities.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who proposed the legislation, said in a San Francisco Chronicle article yesterday that the card promotes public safety by allowing undocumented residents to provide valid ID when interacting with police officials.
He also noted that without valid identification, undocumented immigrants are more likely to be victims of theft because they have no means of opening bank accounts.
“Our city can’t just stand by while our federal government takes no action to address the safety needs of our community,” he said in a Sept. 18 press release.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson has previously endorsed the program, which passed 10-1. The dissenting vote came from a supervisor who was concerned that the cost of program’s implementation is thus far unknown, a San Francisco Chronicle article reported yesterday.
Although San Francisco’s ID has taken some heat for being accessible to undocumented immigrants, local media coverage and card proponents have also emphasized the card’s benefits to groups other than undocumented immigrants. Children could list emergency contact information on their cards, Ammiano said in a Sept. 18 press release, and homeless and elderly individuals who lack valid driver’s licenses will receive proper identification.
The cards will also accurately represent the gender status of the transgendered, who often encounter bureaucratic difficulties when trying to change the gender listed on their driver’s licenses. Some states, for example, require proof of genital surgery, even though not all transgender individuals have surgery because they cannot afford to or choose not to.
“[The card] is a gesture to bring all folks out of the shadows,” said Kristina Wertz of the advocacy non-profit Transgender Law Center in the online daily Beyond Chron. “ID’s that accurately reflect one’s own gender and one’s name are important.”
Since 1989, San Francisco has been termed a “sanctuary city” because its local officials do not cooperate with federal agencies to enforce immigration law. Last December the city of New Haven issued a similar non-cooperation policy.
Opponents of local non-cooperation statutes and municipal ID cards have criticized the two policies for protecting illegal immigrants at the cost of middle-class citizens. Critics have also questioned the policies’ legality within federal law.
-The Associated Press contributed reporting.