New York Governor Eliot Spitzer said Wednesday he is abandoning his plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, saying that opposition is too overwhelming to move forward with such a policy.
"I continue to believe that my proposal would have improved an unsatisfactory situation, but I have listened to the legitimate concerns of the public and those who would be affected by my proposal and have concluded that pushing forward unilaterally in the face of such strong opposition would be counterproductive," said Spitzer in a morning press conference in Washington, D.C.
Spitzer said he was giving up because he had concluded that "New York state cannot successfully address this problem on its own" when the federal government has failed to control the country's borders and has left states to deal with the consequences.
The governor first unveiled his initiative in September, when he announced that the Department of Motor Vehicles would begin issuing driver's licenses without regard to immigration status and said he wanted to bring illegal immigrants "out of the shadows."
But in late October, Spitzer switched to a compromise three-tiered plan after opponents charged that the original plan would make it easier for would-be terrorists to get identification and make the country less safe.
The proposed three tiers of licenses are a limited driver's license that illegal immigrants could obtain, which could not be used for boarding planes or crossing borders, a secure, federally recognized license known as Real ID, which would be available only to legal residents, and an even more secure identification for people who travel across the border to Canada frequently, which would comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
The revised plan did not make opponents satisfied but alienated many of Spitzer's early supporters.
Polls show that Spitzer's favorability rating among New Yorkers has dropped lower than opposition.
About 70 percent of New Yorkers oppose the license plan, according to a Siena College poll of 625 registered voters released Tuesday. The poll, conducted Nov. 5-8, had a sampling error margin of 3.9 percentage points.
Nationally, 76 percent of Americans oppose giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, according to a poll conducted in October for CNN by the Opinion Research Corp.
In an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday night, Spitzer said he expected the plan would ultimately be blocked.
"I am not willing to fight to the bitter end on something that will not ultimately be implemented," he told the Times.
In the interview, the governor sounded disappointed but resigned. He acknowledged that he would be criticized for changing course on the issue for the second time in three weeks.
"You think so?" he said facetiously when a reporter suggested as much.
There are about 1 million undocumented immigrants in New York state. They have no Social Security numbers.
Spitzer once said: "As long as I am governor, we will not pretend that they do not exist, we will not cut them off from participating in our society, and we will not become part of a myth that is propagated at the federal level that they are not here."
Illegal immigration is a big problem in the United States. Depending on different sources, the numbers range from about 7 million up to 20 million or more.