As immigrants once again redefine what it means to be a New Yorker, we should avoid any policy that drives newcomers--legal or illegal--into legal and economic shadows beyond the reach of the law. That's why Governor Eliot Spitzer's policy of making illegal immigrants eligible for drivers' licenses makes good sense.
Despite the claims of critics that the new license policy will undermine security, the safeguards built into his plan should be enough to maintain our safety. At the same time, they'll expand the pool of insured drivers on our roads.
Most important, licensing drivers is a healthy effort to end the social isolation of illegal immigrants. As the New York City police recognized long ago, they need the help of immigrants--legal and illegal--to keep order. They won't get tips from people who are worried about someone uncovering the state of their immigration status. The logic of that observation led the police to encourage even illegal immigrants to become as much a part of our legal mainstream as possible. The same holds true on drivers' licenses.
Given the Bush Administration's failure to enact any kind of reasonable immigration policy, and concerns about terrorism, the licensing issue is ripe for fearmongers.
But labor unions and the state's Catholic bishops support the plan. It is also likely to gain support from the growing number of immigrant voters, who see attacks on illegals as part of a politics of hostility toward all immigrants.
Finally, Spitzer seems to relish a fight on this one for all the right reasons. Here's hoping that he wins.