WASHINGTON — New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has decided to abandon a plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, officials familiar with the decision told The Associated Press Tuesday night.
The governor is due to meet Wednesday morning with New York's congressional delegation, many of whom openly oppose the program. Debate over the issue also has spilled into New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.
The governor's office signaled to New York lawmakers Tuesday that Spitzer will say at the meeting that he is shelving the plan and that immigration is a federal issue to be handled by Washington, according to congressional aides who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement had been made.
Last month, Spitzer sought to salvage the license effort by striking a deal with the Department of Homeland Security to create three distinct types of state driver's licenses: one "enhanced" that will be as secure as a passport; a second-tier license good for boarding airplanes; and a third marked not valid for federal purposes that would be available to illegal immigrants and others.
Clinton has been criticized by her Democratic and Republican rivals for her noncommittal answers on the subject. She has said she sympathizes with governors like Spitzer who are forced to confront the issue of immigration because the federal government has not enacted immigration reform. She has not taken a position on the actual plan offered by Spitzer.
A Spitzer spokeswoman did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
The governor introduced the plan with the goal of increased security, safer roads and an opportunity to bring immigrants "out of the shadows."
Opponents charged Spitzer would make it easier for would-be terrorists to get identification, and make the country less safe. Many New Yorkers agreed with them.
About 70 percent of New Yorkers oppose the license plan, according to a Siena College poll of 625 registered state voters released Tuesday. The poll, conducted Nov. 5-8, had a sampling margin of 3.9 percentage points.
"As I've said on numerous occasions, this is a tough issue," Spitzer said Tuesday in New York City. "And it's one where we're continuing to try to talk to the public, explain why we took the position that I have thus far, and explain what issues we're trying to address. But I understand _ you don't need to see the most recent poll to understand that this is an issue that has touched a nerve in the public and we're trying to address that in a thoughtful, modulated way, and then we'll see where we go."
Associated Press writers Valerie Bauman in Albany, N.Y., and Sara Kugler in New York City contributed to this report.