New York’s Governor Betrays Immigrants

by Marty Goodman / November 2007 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

NEW YORK—In a reversal of his campaign promises, Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) announced on Oct. 27 a new driver’s license just for “illegal” immigrants. Spitzer earlier had promised a single license for all New York drivers.

The new Spitzer plan is part of a deal made with the Bush administration. It includes a three-tier licensing system that opponents say will keep many of New York’s one million undocumented workers underground, without a way to travel to jobs and worse.

“We supported the governor’s original proposal, which was to have one license for all New Yorkers. The governor’s actions are a huge betrayal,” said Norman Eng of the N.Y. Immigration Coalition, an organization of more than 200 immigrant groups. “This lesser license will stigmatize immigrants carrying it, making them vulnerable to racial profiling, discrimination, and possibly deportation,” Eng said.

Bhaihravi Desai, executive director of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA), whose members are mostly South Asian immigrants, told Socialist Action, “We are just as shocked by this betrayal as are other immigration organizations. This will make immigrants more vulnerable.”

The TWA conducted two brief strikes in September and October to protest a city-backed scheme of taxi fleet bosses to require electronic tracking devices in cabs. So far, the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has not budged.

Spitzer originally said his goal in making licenses available to “illegals” was to reduce the number of uninsured drivers, not as a defense of immigrant worker rights. Nevertheless, his first proposal met fierce opposition from racist forces, especially among State Senate Republicans and some Democrats. The proposal was vetoed in the state Senate.

In a capitulation to racist forces, the governor’s latest proposal includes two versions of a N.Y. State license for U.S. citizens and legal residents only. The first type of “legals only” license would be acceptable ID on domestic flights and at federal buildings. A second “legals only” license would qualify for use at the Canadian border.

Another, cheaper license would be just for “illegal” immigrants and would not require a Social Security card. Advocates say that those holding these licenses will be branded as “illegals.”

The plan, negotiated with the office of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, will be in sync with new federal rules for so-called “secure” state licenses, known as Real ID. The Real ID plan is a post 9/11 attempt to start-up a national ID system in 2008. Before 9/11, New York granted licenses regardless of immigration status. Some states still do.

Spitzer explained his deal with Bush by praising Real ID as a good way to gather data on illegals, which will include a new high-tech application procedure. Real ID was promoted by the Bush administration and added to an Iraq War funding bill in 2005, which passed with Republican and Democratic Party votes.

The American Civil Liberties Union and many others have denounced the Real ID concept. The ACLU condemned the use of “motor vehicle bureaus to enforce immigration,” the combining of state license data bases in violation of their own state laws, and transforming drivers licenses into “de facto national ID cards.”

So far, 17 states have passed laws defying the measure, with possibly others to follow. The ACLU called Spitzer’s decision a “stunning lack of courage.”

New York’s Democratic governor will be leading the way toward the first large state’s implementation of Bush’s new ID rules—years before it will be necessary in 2013. The move dovetails with a bipartisan attack on immigrant workers that was at the heart of several bipartisan, anti-immigrant “reform” bills before Congress earlier this year. So far, ruling-class politicians have deadlocked on a compromise.

The governor’s betrayal was so raw that even a key Spitzer ally, state Senator Eric Schneiderman, whose upper-Manhattan constituency is mostly immigrant, said, “He is helping Chertoff and the Bush administration rescue a failed public policy that was about to go down in defeat.” A vote on the governor’s measures is likely.

Eliot Spitzer gained national attention as a crusader against corrupt Wall Street practices as the state’s former attorney general. Yet, none of the Wall Street crooks Spitzer caught cheating were made to admit to any wrong doing and none spent a day in jail for stealing hundreds of millions.

One of Spitzer’s first acts in 2007 as a new governor was to promote Judge Theodore Jones to the State Appeals Court. The promotion was widely understood as reward for harsh rulings made by Jones against Transport Workers Union Local 100 for its 2005 New
York City transit strike. Jones slammed the union with a $2.5 million fine, suspended automatic union dues collection, and sent its president, Roger Toussaint, to jail for several days. The decision was based on New York’s Taylor Law, a bipartisan, anti-labor law, which prohibits strikes by public workers.

Spitzer is the son of a New York City real-estate mogul. Gov. Spitzer has supported the racist death penalty, “roving” wire-taps for police, and state aid for parochial schools. He is pro-Israel and supported a U.S. invasion of Iraq before it actually happened.

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