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Plan to Provide Illegal Immigrants with Driver’s Licenses Stirs Debate

Recent proposals to allow illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses and auto insurance have added a new layer to the debate over immigration rights in America and surfaced as an issue on the presidential campaign trail. Experts examine the controversy.

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    Next, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, the arguments for and against, after some background.

    New York Senator Hillary Clinton seemed to be caught off-guard Tuesday during the Democratic debate in Philadelphia, when "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert asked her about a plan by New York's governor, Democrat Eliot Spitzer, to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

    TIM RUSSERT, Host, NBC's "Meet the Press": You told the Nashua, New Hampshire, editorial board "it makes a lot of sense." Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license?

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds.


    Spitzer's plan is a means of complying with the Real ID law, which Congress passed in 2005 in response to the 9/11 attacks. The law insists that states require Social Security numbers to obtain a driver's license.

    Spitzer wants to create a three-tiered system of driver's licenses, with one class reserved for illegal immigrants who can't legally obtain a Social Security number. The license would allow them to drive and secure car insurance, but it could not be used as a federally approved ID.

    Last weekend, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff gave Spitzer's plan his qualified OK.

  • MICHAEL CHERTOFF, Homeland Security Secretary:

    I do not endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally, but federal law does allow states to make that choice. What we can do is insist that licenses that do not meet federal requirements be clearly so labeled. New York has agreed to do that.

    In sum, that clarification, along with implementing Real ID enhanced driver's licenses, represents a major step forward for security, both for New York and for the country.

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