Senator Chris Dodd called the idea of Governor Spitzer in New York to give illegal immigrants drivers licenses "troublesome", but Sen. Clinton in the recent Democrats' debate seemed to come down in support of it. The next day, instead of distancing herself from the policy, she embraced it more fully. I had to check twice to make sure I had that right. Surely, I thought, no one in the present environment--when domestic security is so tense and when illegal immigration remains unpopular--would back such a patently dangerous scheme. But Senator Clinton did.
John Fund writes an editorial column on it in The Wall Street Journal. Jim Pinkerton, in a Newsdaycolumn likens it to the Willy Horton episode that undid Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race. But Pinkerton's analysis, while apt, would leave people thinking that this licenses idea is just going to be used as a symbolic issue, as was the case with Willy Horton, the convicted killer Dukakis let out of prison, only to see him kill again. No, as Fund shows, this issue is far more serious. It is a real threat to the core issue of trust in government and the institutions of democracy. It is an invitation to corruption and scandal.
Simply put, drivers' licenses these days are acting as de facto substitutes for a national identity card. If you are not able to drive for some reason, you almost have to get some other photo-ID, such as a passport, or you won't be able to fly, charge goods in some stores or vote in some states. If New York or some other state provides drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants--even with supposed "safeguards"--it will open the welfare and health care system to new enrollees, give superficial legitimacy to potential terrorists (several of the 9/11 terrorists had obtained drivers licenses) and ultimately endanger the integrity of the electoral process. Illegal immigrants who vote deprive valid voters of their full franchise. It is a form of stealing. It will demoralize the electorate.
The news controversy over the New York plan is producing some indications that illegal immigrants already are voting in ceertain jurisdictions. There should be a federal investigation of this situation now, well before the 2008 election.
I like immigrants--legal immigrants. I feel sorry for illegal immigrants who are desperately seeking ways to feed their families. I would like to see the U.S. do more to help Mexico and other countries develop jobs and to reform their economies to make growth more likely. But why should I or anyone have sympathy for politicians who exploit the current immigration issue to get illegal immigrants the same benefits that belong to U.S. citizens, especially the right to vote? Does any other country (including Mexico) do such an outlandish thing? It is a sovereignty matter, pure and simple.
If Senator Clinton and the Democrats don't repudiate this idea quickly and firmly, the Republicans cannot be blamed for making the most of it. The only way to avoid being politically damaged by such a bad plan is to disown it fast.