Driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York

Por Mariel Fiori
February 2014
The states of California, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Colorado, Connecticut, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have something in common: all of them issue driver’s licenses regardless of the immigration status of the person. Will the state of New York be on the list this year? The New York Immigration Coalition expects so.

Early last year, only three states mentioned (New Mexico, Utah and Washington) were issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. But as immigration reform is not approved in Congress, almost nine states decided that it was time to make life easier for its residents (and making the streets safer) and by the end of the year had already approved measures to issue driver’s license regardless of the individual's immigration status. Meanwhile, three other states, Minnesota, Kentucky and Iowa have bills that are expected to be approved in 2014. Yes, the winds of change.

As some may recall, in 2007 the then Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, by executive order ordered state agencies to issue driver's licenses to immigrants without social security number, but who had passports or other documents proving their identity. This measure created such a stir because it was considered unilateral and amid the anti-immigrant 
political climate of the day (remember, for example, that the presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke of self-deportation in 2012)  much more, so the governor was forced to rescind the order and submit an appropriate legislation, the Senate did not approve. But Spitzer did not seem to have learned his lesson with the first try, so again, seemingly by force, he put into effect an administrative measure to the Department of Motor Vehicles, DMV, which he was forced to retire later.

The climate is different this year, said Manuel Castro, campaign organizer of the New York Immigration Coalition, NYIC. This coalition with over one hundred partner organizations, has as one of its main objectives for 2014 to improve road safety by giving 950,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state, access to driver's licenses (according to statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center). The NYIC says this would also improve public safety by ensuring that all those who drive on our roads passed a driving test and have a vehicle registered and insured. "We are very positive. There is much more support. New York has a huge opportunity this year, "said Castro.

And in New York there are at least three bills introduced last year that this year are expected to be voted at the state legislature. State Sen. Jose Peralta introduced late last year S05965A, a bill to authorize the DMV to issue driver's licenses to certain foreign nationals (who have not been convicted of serious crimes). In parallel, Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda presented a bill analogous to Peralta. And in turn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz had submitted his own bill, A03109 earlier this year. The fourth bill is from Senator Adriano Espaillat that would only impact DACA beneficiaries (DACA, deferred action for childhood arrivals, also known as DREAMers).

Another chance that activists see is the fact that this is an election year for New York. In November the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, state comptroller, attorney general, the 63 state senate districts, 150 districts and 27 state assembly districts that represent the state in Congress will be renewed. And if politicians want to stay in their jobs, or the opponents candidates want to take them off, they know they should also think about the Latino and immigrant voters. Castro says that New Yorkers play an important role for the bill to be passed "some politicians need the people in their districts say they need this kind of change. Nothing will happen if the community does not come out, does not make calls, asking that such a proposal is approved in the Assembly and the Senate ".

*Translated into English by Odett Salcedo.

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