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Bill to Allow Immigrants NYS Drivers Licenses Clears Assembly

Twelve states and the District of Columbia currently allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. (jan3933/Pixabay)
Twelve states and the District of Columbia currently allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. (jan3933/Pixabay)
June 14, 2019

ALBANY N.Y. – Labor leaders are urging the state Senate to take action on a bill they say will help ensure that all drivers in New York are trained, licensed and insured.

On Wednesday, the state Assembly passed "Green Light New York," a bill to allow all state residents to get drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status.

According to Alison Hirsch, vice president and political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, the bill would benefit the entire state by giving thousands of people in New York the ability to get and keep jobs and provide for their families.

"It's an opportunity to actually have government do what it's supposed to be doing,” says Hirsch. “Which is simultaneously providing access to work, higher quality of life for residents of our state and keeping our streets safer."

Opponents of the measure say it would require a big increase in staffing at Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and that immigrants should pursue legal status.

But obtaining legal status can take years, and Hirsch points out that many immigrants live outside of urban areas that have adequate public transportation – areas she calls "transportation deserts."

"Farm workers upstate, cleaners in Long Island and the Hudson Valley,” says Hirsch. “In order to build that American dream, people need to be able to drive places, because there aren't any alternatives."

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the bill would make 265,000 people eligible for licenses and generate $57 million in revenue for the state.

Hirsch notes that 60% of 32BJ union members are immigrants, many with family members who also would benefit from access to drivers licenses. She says the Green Light New York bill would help immigrants come out of the shadows.

"It's time to have immigrant workers be given the credit for the contributions they're making – through the tax that they pay, through the families that they build, through the roles that they play in the community – and we see drivers licenses as an important piece of that puzzle,” says Hirsch.

Disclosure: 32BJ SEIU contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Immigrant Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY