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Has New York's DMV become the INS?

February 5, 2007

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles is getting some tough criticism for a three-year-old rule that requires proof of immigration status in order to get a New York driver's license. The rule clearly shuts undocumented New Yorkers out of the licensing process.

Carlos Serrano, a 24-year-old Salvadoran immigrant who has lived in the United States for ten years, says the rule adds insult to injury. He points out that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) system is so backed up, even people who are in the process of getting their "green cards" can't obtain the kinds of written proof the DMV requires.

"The bottom line is you know, this is just driving! These are things we need to do to live. My mother has a letter from the INS [sic] saying that they received her application and it's being processed, but that's not enough for the DMV. A friend of ours has four kids here, and now he has to drive them to school without a driver's license."

The DMV says it adopted the rule to combat fraud, but Serrano says the unintended consequence is exploitation. Immigrant drivers who cannot renew their licenses must pay as much as three times the normal insurance rates that they would receive as legally licensed drivers.

Community organizer Amy Sugimori of the group La Fuente says the DMV is acting as a de facto immigration enforcement agency, a capacity it was certainly never assigned.

"This isn't anything that's required by law, and it's 'way beyond their expertise. The fallout has been that hundreds of thousands of working people have either been faced with suspension of their driver's licenses, or have lost their licenses as they expired and they've been unable to renew them."

Is the New York DMV going overboard? Serrano thinks so.

"There's got to be another way to handle this. These are just basic driving documents, and immigrants need to be able to get insurance and drive safely."

Michael Clifford/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - NY