Drivers Licenses under seige- Clinton to the rescue?

Anti-immigrants continue to rally troops to storm Eliot Spitzer's castle. Clinton comes to his rescue? Kind of...

In a recent sit-down interview with the board of The Nashua Telegraph, a leading New Hampshire newspaper, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton finally was asked what she thinks of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s policy to allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Her answer? Judge for yourself:

I think it’s important to bring everybody out of the shadows. To do the background checks. To deport those who have outstanding warrants or have committed crimes in the United States, and then to say to those who wish to stay here, you have to pay back taxes, you have to pay a fine, you have to learn English, and you have to wait in line. And I hate to see any state being pushed to try to take this into their own hands, because the federal government has failed.

So I know exactly what Governor Spitzer’s trying to do and it makes a lot of sense, because he’s trying to get people out of the shadows. He’s trying to say, “O.K., come forward and we will give you this license.”

But without a federal policy in effect, people will come forward and they could get picked up by I.C.E. tomorrow. I mean, this can’t work state-by-state. It has to be looked at comprehensively. I agreed with President Bush and his efforts to try to approach this. He just didn’t have the political capital left by the time he actually got serious about it.

And it’s unfortunate that too many people are using this to demagogue the issue, instead of trying to solve it: you know, people in politics, people in the press, and there’s a kind of unholy alliance.

There are a couple of different things going on here. She does say the policy “makes a lot of sense,” which is close to saying she supports it but not quite. And like the governor, she laments the tone of the debate, and takes an implicit swing at state Republicans and outlets like The New York Post or Lou Dobbs’s show.

So the Spitzer administration could take that as an endorsement.

There is, however, that “but.”

Like some members of the Legislature who are wavering on the issue, Mrs. Clinton sort of burrowed past the question, saying the real problem is that Washington hasn’t come up with a comprehensive immigration reform. She doesn’t quite say she is on board with Mr. Spitzer’s plan to give licenses to illegal immigrants, the issue at hand.

Interestingly, she also takes the tack that the policy would put illegal immigrants at the risk of being picked up by immigration authorities — something that has been a concern of immigration advocacy groups.

Under Mr. Spitzer’s policy, the copies of documents people would submit to get licenses would be destroyed after being verified. But information about whether or not they provided a Social Security number would likely reside in the system, information which would probably be available under subpoena. (Mr. Spitzer’s office just notified reporters that he has scheduled an announcement related to the plan for 11 a.m. Friday at New York University School of Law.)

Philippe Reines, the senator’s press secretary, said in a statement: “Senator Clinton strongly believes that a federal solution is needed to our immigration crisis. She is still studying the Governor’s proposal, but understands the impetus behind his plan — that federal inaction on comprehensive immigration reform has created conditions where states feel compelled to act on their own.”