Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday came out against granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, after weeks of pressure in the presidential race to take a position on a now-failed ID plan from her home state governor.
Clinton has faced criticism from candidates in both parties for her noncommittal answers on New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's attempt to allow illegal immigrants in his state to receive driver's licenses. Spitzer abandoned the effort Wednesday.
"I support Governor Spitzer's decision today to withdraw his proposal," Clinton said in a statement. "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system."
Clinton stumbled when asked about the issue during a Democratic debate two weeks ago, and her new position comes the day before another debate where opponents are expected to raise the issue again.
Rival campaigns made clear they were not letting go of the issue.
"When it takes two weeks and six different positions to answer one question on immigration, it's easier to understand why the Clinton campaign would rather plant their questions than answer them," said Barack Obama spokesman Bill Burton, referring to the Clinton campaign's admission that aides had staged a question for her at an Iowa event.
Colleen Flanagan, a spokesman for Chris Dodd, called Clinton's position "flip-flopping cubed. She was for it before she was against it, before she was for it, before she was against it."
Spitzer met with New York lawmakers in Washington on Wednesday, and conceded that there was too much public opposition to his plan. Clinton did not attend the meeting.
"It does not take a stethoscope to hear the pulse of New Yorkers on this topic," he said.
The Democratic governor introduced the plan two months ago with the goal of increased security, safer roads and an opportunity to bring immigrants "out of the shadows." Opponents charged the scheme would make it easier for would-be terrorists to get identification, and make the country less safe.
The decision is another example of the roadblocks high-profile immigration reforms have faced this year. Less than five months ago, Congress failed to pass legislation that would legalize as many as 12 million unlawful immigrants and fortify the border with Mexico.
"The federal government has lost control of its borders... and now has no solution to deal with it," Spitzer said.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called Spitzer's reversal on the license issue "a good development" and said immigration is a federal issue for which his department has to "ramp up enforcement."
"What I want to make sure is that states aren't working at cross purposes with us and enabling the kind of conduct we're enforcing against," Chertoff told The Associated Press by telephone from London.