New York State, home to more than 500,000 illegal immigrants, will issue driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status under a policy change announced yesterday by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The change rolls back rules adopted four years ago under the Pataki administration that made it difficult, if not impossible, for tens of thousands of immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses because they could not prove legal status. Under the new rules, the Department of Motor Vehicles will accept a current foreign passport as proof of identity without also requiring a valid yearlong visa or other evidence of legal immigration.
The policy, which does not require legislative approval, will be phased in starting in December and will be tied to new antifraud measures, the governor said. Those measures will include the authentication of foreign passports and the use of photo comparison technology to ensure that no driver has more than one license.
The governor called it a “common sense change” that will improve traffic safety and lower insurance costs for all New Yorkers by ensuring that more immigrants have valid licenses and auto insurance. Giving more immigrants verifiable identification will also enhance law enforcement by bringing people out of the shadows, he asserted.
“The D.M.V. is not the I.N.S.,” Mr. Spitzer said, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, now part of Homeland Security, by its old initials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The move goes against the national trend. Many states, prodded by demands to crack down on identity fraud, have added requirements that effectively prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.
All but eight states now require drivers to prove legal status to obtain driver’s licenses, and those eight — Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington — have come under pressure to add such a requirement.