Richard Drew/AP

High Hopes for New York’s New License

September 16, 2008 05:12 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
New York State residents will have access to a new driver’s license that also acts as a passport, and is intended to heighten border security—but is the system too expensive to be effective?

The All-New New York License

Today, New York State drivers will be able to buy new enhanced driver’s licenses that will also be accepted as a form of identification for land or sea travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, reports the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Despite being less expensive than a passport, the new license costs $80, and some state lawmakers are concerned that families will not be able to afford them. Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-Clarence, Erie County, said, “It meets the goal of what I wanted to do, except I just wish we can find economy in the state to reduce the cost.” The license will cost $60 for non-drivers.

New York State has spent $2 million on the new system, but it was considered necessary for national security, for maintaining the economic relationship between New York and Canada, and to make traveling less complicated. 

The new licenses were created in response to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which requires all travelers on flights into the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Central and South America to carry a valid passport. The WHTI went into effect in January 2007 as part of post-9/11 congressional security legislation called the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Background: Controversy over licenses

The federal government approved the new enhanced license in May 2008 as a means of protecting U.S. borders. The new license is an alternative to former Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s proposal to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. 

According to USA Today, Spitzer felt his plan would make New York safer. “It’s better to know who they are than pretend they don’t exist,” Spitzer said.

But many others were vehemently opposed to Spitzer’s plan. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said, “It gives identification to people here illegally and people who could be terrorists.” King also planned to propose a law barring issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in all states.

Spitzer ended up abandoning the immigrant policy in November 2007 after debate and criticism of it grew too intense, outweighing other important issues and ruining his approval ratings, according to The New York Times.

Reference: WHTI


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