11/18/2007 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Spitzer's Immigration Surrender

The following piece is part of an ongoing series of HuffPost's OffTheBus reports by citizen policy experts critiquing different aspects of Campaign '08.

It seemed like such a good idea. And the security experts - Richard Clarke, Margaret Stock - thought so too. The idea? "[A]n administrative policy change that will give all New Yorkers the opportunity to apply for state driver licenses without regard to immigration status," announced by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner David Swarts on Sept. 21, 2007.

But in less than two months, this good idea got watered-down, then deep-sixed altogether. What happened? And why did it happen so fast? How did a "solid" plan devolve into a debate "tripwire?"

In a series of columns Juan Gonzales of the New York Daily News traces the demise of the Spitzer plan. First, the Feds' "Real ID" plan, on the ropes, needed a boost; second, and fatally, the plan flew into the buzz saw of anti-immigrant fervor now obsessing significant segments of the public discourse (rational discussions of security be damned).

Nicholas Confessore, Raymond Hernandez and Danny Hakim provide a cogent post mortem (including an MP3 "backstory" audio from Danny Hakim) - "Mr. Spitzer did not spare his harshest critics, who he said had inflamed the debate with anti-immigrant rhetoric that equated minimum-wage, undocumented dishwashers with Osama bin Laden.' He also said he still believed his proposal would have benefited New Yorkers, citizens, and immigrants alike, and lit into federal officials for failing to fix the nation's immigration system." The topic will likely infect the presidential race from here on out.

Meanwhile, Real ID continues to totter, and the Democratic presidential candidates bicker about who said what when about the license issue. Indeed, it was almost the first question to be asked in the Las Vegas debate on Nov. 15th. (Use the Gray Lady's nifty "transcript analyzer" to see exactly how it went down.)

When (or if) the dust settles, perhaps we can go back to Gov. Spitzer's original idea, think about what the experts said about it, and ask the flamers to answer this question: What part of safety and security don't you understand?