ALBANY, N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer is abandoning his plan to issue drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants, saying that opposition is just too overwhelming to move forward with such a policy.
The governor, who is to announce the move formally today, said in an interview on Tuesday night that he did not reach the decision easily.
"You have perhaps seen me struggle with it because I thought we had a principled decision, and it's not necessarily easy to back away from trying to move a debate forward," he said.
But he came to believe the proposal would ultimately be blocked, he said, either by legal challenges, a vote by the Legislature to deny financing for the Department of Motor Vehicles or a refusal by upstate county clerks to carry it out.
"I am not willing to fight to the bitter end on something that will not ultimately be implemented," the governor said, "and we also have an enormous agenda on other issues of great importance to New York state that was being stymied by the constant and almost singular focus on this issue."
Spitzer's plan touched off a national debate over whether issuing licenses to illegal immigrants would make the state more secure or improperly extend a privilege to them that should be reserved for legal residents.
Opposition to the proposal sent his poll numbers plunging and stalled his broader agenda.
The decision is likely to be a relief to many of his fellow Democrats in Albany and in Washington, who feared the issue could haunt them into next year's election season.