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Former NY Gov. Spitzer: Hillary Clinton Opposed Driver's Licenses for Immigrants

First Posted: Oct 30, 2015 05:23 PM EDT
Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton(Photo : Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is under the spotlight for her stance on providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

During a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2007, Clinton was questioned if she supported then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses. Clinton said she did not think Spitzer's plan was the appropriate approach at addressing the immigration issues that the George W. Bush administration failed to address.

"What Gov. Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform," Clinton told debate moderator Tim Russert in the October 2007 debate. "In New York, we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability."

Clinton added, "Gov. Spitzer is trying to fill the vacuum. We need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform."

Later, when Russert further questioned Clinton's stance on Spitzer's plan, the then-New York senator said, "What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York we want to know who's in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He's making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform."

Clinton specifically called for federal comprehensive immigration reform.

In June 2007, the Senate voted on comprehensive immigration reform bill S. 1639. The bill, introduced by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., failed to pass the Senate, including an opposing vote from fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, but Clinton voted in favor.

Now in 2015, Spitzer, who resigned as New York governor following his involvement in a prostitution ring scandal in 2009, spoke about Clinton's stance on the driver's license issue.

During an appearance on political strategist David Axelrod's podcast, Spitzer acknowledged the topic of providing immigrants with driver's licenses was unpopular at the time and it was a "politically tough issue." He said Clinton had a problem with the plan and that her then-campaign has asked him to abandon it.

In a statement from the Dream Action Coalition, the organization said Latinos and Dreamers are "truly disappointed" that Clinton "would throw the immigrant community under the bus, especially since she had criticized other for doing the same." According to DRC, many immigrants have been deported for not having a driver's license.

DRC Co-Director Carlos Vargas said, "Rather than be an advocate for the right causes, this news reveals that Mrs. Clinton is prone to changing her stance in unfavorable political climates. Is this what we expect from a President?"

"Hillary's record on immigration is becoming increasingly suspect, and this new revelation is cause for concern -- how will she handle the pressure of the Presidency? The immigrant community needs a President that is willing to take a stand, not one that will succumb to political pressure," Hina Naveed, lead organizer at the Dream Action Coalition, said.

In a statement sent to Latin Post, Clinton's campaign noted the environment in regards to the immigration debate has changed since 2007.

"The immigration landscape of 2015 is far different from the immigration landscape of 2007, so of course the policy responses are different," said the statement from Clinton's campaign. "In 2007, we didn't have an executive action that would focus our resources on deporting felons, not families, allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. In the last eight years, states have increasingly been moving in this direction with positive results."

As of August 2015, 11 U.S. jurisdictions allow immigrants to apply for driver's licenses: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington State and Washington, D.C. Among the 11 jurisdictions, California has the highest undocumented immigrant population with an estimated 2.5 million. Illinois ranked second, followed by Maryland, with 475,000 and 250,000 undocumented immigrants, respectively. Delaware and Hawaii will also allow immigrants to apply in December and January 2016, respectively

"Hillary supports those state efforts," her campaign added. "As she said in 2007, she believes the long-term solution is comprehensive immigration reform, but given Republican obstruction, we can no longer wait for that."

Spitzer told Axelrod that he supports former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Clinton, O'Malley and Sanders have all confirmed their support of Obama's executive actions and congressional comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. Clinton and O'Malley have even went to say they would consider further executive actions if Congress fails to act.

"Whether it's drivers licenses for New Americans, the DREAM Act, or kicking [the Immigration and Customs Enforcement] out of Baltimore jails, Governor O'Malley's leadership has always been based on principles, not polls," said Gabriela Domenzain, director of public engagement for the O'Malley campaign, told Latin Post.

Spitzer, however, went on to disclose he is dating the deputy campaign manager of O'Malley's campaign.

"Yes, everybody knows that. Yes. Correct," Spitzer said on Axelrod's podcast, "The Axe Files." "I am biased and overtly so. And proudly so. I never thought that being biased was a negative thing as long as you had a foundation for it, if it's based on fact."

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For the latest updates, follow Latin Post's Politics Editor Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO or contact via email: m.oleaga@latinpost.com.

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