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A Victory for Equality: Green Light for New York State’s Undocumented Immigrants

Written by Sari Mendoza, Capalino+Company

New York has made history as it continues to live up to its sanctuary status as an inclusive and integrated state

New York has become the 13th state to support our nation’s undocumented immigrant population by granting drivers licenses for all regardless of immigration status. The sponsors for the Green Light bills: S1747B and A3675B are NYS Senator Luis R. Sepulveda and Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo who continuously fought to make this a reality for undocumented New Yorkers.  

On Wednesday, June 12th, the Assembly Bill A3675B passed with 87 votes in favor. While proponents celebrated the passage in the Assembly, the sentiment intensified as the Senate Bill S1747B was scheduled for a vote the following week. On Monday, June 17th, the Senate Bill S1747B passed with 33 votes in favor. After an emotional day at the Senate Chamber, the bill was delivered to Governor Cuomo who signed it into law after expressing concerns earlier that day. At last, undocumented New Yorker’s have been reinstituted of their right to drive lawfully in NYS.

On Wednesday, June 12th, the Assembly Bill A3675B passed with 87 votes in favor. While proponents celebrated the passage in the Assembly, the sentiment intensified as the Senate Bill S1747B was scheduled for a vote the following week. On Monday, June 17th, the Senate Bill S1747B passed with 33 votes in favor. After an emotional day at the Senate Chamber, the bill was delivered to Governor Cuomo who signed it into law after expressing concerns earlier that day. At last, undocumented New Yorker’s have been reinstituted of their right to drive lawfully in NYS.

Prior to 2002, New York State did not have a prerequisite for a Social Security number as a form of identification to obtain a driver’s license. After the September 11, 2001 attack on The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex, restrictions were placed when former New York State Governor George E. Pataki issued a policy, in 2002, neglecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants’ access to the basic needs of transportation for work, school, medical appointments, and job opportunities throughout the state,  

In 2007, legislation allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants was introduced by former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer. He received pushback from local government officials, lawmakers, and the public resulting in the collapse of the bill within months of its introduction. At the time, immigrants were wrongfully associated as a threat to national security.

Around the nation, 12 states have taken the initiative to continuously support our undocumented population by granting driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.

Below are some states that have granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants:

Washington

Since May 17, 1993, Washington has allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for DMV Limited Purpose Driver’s Licenses through the House Bill 1444. Distinct from other states, Washington residents who satisfy the qualifications that comply with the Real ID Acts are issued the identical standard license despite legal status throughout the state.

California

In 2013, California provided undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply for the AB 60 driver’s license that was issued to individuals who were not able to satisfy the requirements of lawful status in the United States. Once in effect, in 2015, approximately 1,001,000 immigrants were able to apply for the AB 60 driver’s license. The average application rate towards the end of the year of 2015 for the AB 60 driver’s license was approximately of 10,000 per month. California created two distinctions between the regular and AB 60 driver’s license: (1) The front of the license displays the letters DP instead of DL and (2) the back of the card mentions that the license does not serve for federal purposes.

New Mexico

Since 2003, legislation in New Mexico allowed undocumented immigrants to provide tax identification numbers to supplement Social Security numbers to acquire a driver’s license. A decade later, in 2013, New Mexico experienced a decrease in traffic fatalities and uninsured drivers indicating that undocumented drivers have complied with the state’s law and regulations and have contributed to public safety.

Today, there are approximately 3.1 million immigrants in New York and 560,000 who do not have a Social Security number to qualify for lawful status. About 265,000 undocumented immigrants could reap the benefits of this law once it takes effect in 180 days, around December.  

The benefits of drivers’ licenses in NYS for undocumented immigrants include:

  • Revenue increases for New York State of approximately $9.6 million and continuous contributions of millions of dollars in insurance premium savings for New York motorists
  • Improvement in public safety between law enforcement officials and immigrant communities
  • The City and State reported $1.1 billion in taxes without the inclusion of all New Yorkers, the margins for taxes once the Senate Bill s1747B passes and is in effect will result in an increase to New York’s economy from undocumented immigrants
  • Increase in auto sales will produce up to $4.2 million from title and registration charges
  • Decrease in traffic fatalities and uninsured vehicles rates as seen in states such as New Mexico and Utah

The concerns raised by legislators and the public were regarding the perceptions they consider to be permissive rather than progressive for NYS. The opposition stemmed from the belief that non-citizens will benefit from the rights that citizens have lawfully earned through a lengthy process of naturalization in the United States. Similarly, there was a sentiment that the bill would permit other unlawful activities such as voter fraud, bank fraud, and ID theft. Likewise, there was a resistance from Social Security holders who have to provide verified identification to be granted six points at the DMV when submitting an application for a driver’s license while undocumented immigrants do not. However, undocumented immigrants will have to go through the same application process as citizens to obtain a driver’s license.

Despite the opposition, New York has made history as it continues to live up to its sanctuary status as an inclusive and integrated state where immigrants have a platform to voice their concerns and be heard. The State has yet again demonstrated that immigrant rights matter and that undocumented New Yorker’s no longer have to live in the shadows.

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