Spitzer rethinks licenses to illegals, Real ID really at issue

Facing increasing opposition, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer will withdraw and relook his plan to allow illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses:

With his poll numbers collapsing, Gov. Spitzer will pull the plug today on his controversial plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The embattled governor will make the announcement as he meets today with the state’s heavily Democratic congressional delegation, which grown increasingly critical of the plan, his aides confirmed last night.

“The governor intends to withdraw his plan,” Spitzer spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said, confirming what several sources had told The Post. Spitzer aides said the decision was made because the firestorm over the issue was blocking the governor’s overall agenda, and there were serious concerns that various lawsuits, as well as threatened legislative action, would block the plan anyway.

There was also anxiety about the negative impact the issue was having on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The decision to wave the white flag was cemented as a Siena Research Institute poll released yesterday showed Spitzer with his lowest approval ratings ever – with just 25 percent of voters saying they would support his re-election if the vote were held today.

One source said Spitzer had failed because he “just tried to push [the plan] down everyone’s throats.” To save face, the governor will say that the federal government has failed to adequately address immigration and that it would take a change in presidential administrations for a meaningful discussion on the issue to occur, one source briefed on Spitzer’s announcement said.

“You don’t need to see the most recent polls to understand that this is an issue that has touched a nerve in the public, and we’ll try to address that in a thoughtful, modulated way and we’ll see where we go,” Spitzer said yesterday. “That is a conversation that will continue.”

Meanwhile, the architect of ‘The Real ID Act of 2005’ says Congressman Pete King’s proposal to federally outlaw states from issuing licenses to illegal aliens would not pass judicial review:

Congressional Republicans are scrambling to defuse the political time bomb they created in 2005 when they allowed states to issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens — but a key Republican and author of the Real ID Act says their new bill is unconstitutional.

“Driver’s licenses are issued by the states, not the federal government. I do not believe it is constitutional for the federal government to tell the states who they can issue driver’s licenses to and who they can’t issue driver’s licenses to,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the 2005 law and its provision allowing states the option of giving licenses to illegal aliens.

Rep. Vito J. Fossella, New York Republican, yesterday introduced a bill to repeal part of Mr. Sensenbrenner’s 2005 law and prevent states from issuing licenses to illegal aliens. He also threatened states’ highway funds if they fail to comply with the law. “The governor has left Congress no choice but to try to stop this from going forward,” Mr. Fossella said. He was joined in sponsoring the bill by Rep. Peter T. King, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, and by four other Republicans.

But Democrats say Republicans have only themselves to blame for the way the law reads now, given that House Republicans wrote it and forced it through Congress and onto President Bush’s desk. “All’s fair in political campaigns, but this is the height of demagoguery for someone who helped write the Real ID Act to then protest so loudly what a crummy law it was,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat.

The Real ID Act passed the House in February 2005 on a 261-161 vote, and Republican leaders then tacked it to the bottom of an emergency spending bill that passed the Senate unanimously and the House on a 368-58 vote. Mr. Bush signed it into law that May.

It came in response to the September 11 commission’s report that found fake licenses were a key part of the terrorist attacks.

At the time he wrote the act, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s own state of Wisconsin was among those that allowed illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses. The state has since changed its policy.

Mr. Sensenbrenner also said changing Real ID would open the bill up to amendments on the House or Senate floor that could gut the 2005 law, could give the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) new grounds for a court challenge, and would stoke the fears of a national identification card. “If there’s a national policy then a driver’s license becomes a national ID card,” he said, adding that “ends up playing into the fears of the ACLU and the people on the far right that the Real ID is in fact a national ID card.”

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