Facing growing pressure from his own party, Gov. Eliot Spitzer indicated he had not ruled out rescinding a heavily criticized plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, according to published reports.
Spitzer's proposal has generated a politically charged debate that has reverberated in the presidential campaign. He said Friday he was standing by the plan for now, but he suggested he might consider backing off if he could not build enthusiasm for it, the reports said.
"I don't think there's ever been an executive, a president, a governor who hasn't put out ideas that at the end of the day there isn't support, and so things don't work out," the governor told reporters after meeting with Hispanic lawmakers in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "But as of now, sure, I think this is the right idea from a security perspective. We'll wait and see."
The Democratic governor has weathered intense criticism since he announced the license plan in September. He said giving driving credentials to people now "living in the shadows" would make traffic safer, shrink auto insurance premiums by insuring more drivers and boost security by identifying more immigrants.
But opponents in Albany and around the country have countered that there are security risks in giving government identification to as many as 1 million illegal immigrants in New York State. Some have also said the plan will encourage illegal immigration to the state.
Amid the outcry, Spitzer made a deal with federal homeland security officials last month to create three New York State driver's licenses: one as secure as a U.S. passport for crossing the Canadian border, another for boarding airplanes, and a third that will not be valid federal identification but will be available to illegal immigrants and others for driving.
But criticism has continued. A Republican congressman from Long Island, Rep. Peter King, launched a bid to outlaw the plan this week, while some Republican candidates tried to capitalize on the issue in local elections around the state.
The topic has become an uncomfortable one for Democrats. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner in the presidential race, has come under scrutiny for her noncommittal remarks on the subject.
Clinton has said she supports governors like Spitzer who try to address the national problem of immigration, but has refused to say whether she supports or opposes Spitzer's actual plan.