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Newsday - King Calls It Spitzer Defeat, Others Hail Accord

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Newsday - King Calls It Spitzer Defeat, Others Hail Accord

ZACHARY R. DOWDY
Newsday

One Long Island congressman called a new plan to issue three distinct driver's licenses in New York State a "total defeat" of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to issue undocumented immigrants the same licenses that legal residents and citizens get.

But an advocate for immigrants called the new plan a compassionate measure that he could welcome -- as long as it isn't used to deport them.

The plan, announced Saturday in Washington by Spitzer and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, would provide three tiers of licensing. Spitzer and Chertoff said this would satisfy two objectives: allowing a large group of people legal access to the roadways and tightening national security.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the plan was a good compromise. "This a clear step in the right direction and some of the major issues we have raised are being addressed to our satisfaction," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy was unavailable for comment. Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi could not be reached.

New York has between 500,000 and 1 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom drive without a real license or car insurance, Spitzer said last month when he issued an executive order allowing the undocumented to get licenses.

Under the new plan, one license would allow undocumented immigrants the privilege of driving legally but not serve as federal identification. Another, for legal residents and citizens, would satisfy the strict requirements of the federal Real ID Act, which makes it much harder to forge identification documents.

The third form is for upstate residents who travel across the Canadian border often.

"It's a total defeat for Governor Spitzer," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a high-ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. "Secretary Chertoff makes it clear that the federal government does not recognize the immigrant's driver's license as federal identification."

King said the consequence will be that few undocumented immigrants would sign up for the new license because they would be carrying cards that identify them as illegally present in the country.

The Rev. Allan B. Ramirez, of the Brookville Reformed Church, said the plan would be welcomed as a device that could make the lives of illegal immigrants a little easier.

"I think if it comes across from Spitzer that this is an honest attempt at embracing and welcoming and acknowledging their presence here, the undocumented community will take the steps to get a license," Ramirez said. He added: "I think that as long as we are giving them assurances that this will not be a way for the government to, all of a sudden, compile a list by which they are going to be picked up, arrested and deported, we have no problems with it."


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