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Immigrants, Advocates Move to Defend Driver's Licenses

The Green Light Law would give 750,000 immigrants in New York access to a driver's license. (Nomad_Soul/Adobe Stock)
The Green Light Law would give 750,000 immigrants in New York access to a driver's license. (Nomad_Soul/Adobe Stock)
September 6, 2019

NEW YORK – Restoring immigrants' access to driver's licenses would benefit all New Yorkers – that's the message of a motion filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, New York passed the Green Light New York Law, allowing immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. But the law is being challenged by the Erie County Clerk who is responsible for issuing licenses there.

On Wednesday evening, immigrants' advocates and individuals filed a motion to intervene as defendants in the case.

Jorge Vasquez, associate counsel at LatinoJustice, says the law overturns an executive order issued by then-Gov. George Pataki in the wake of September 11.

"It says that these individuals who are able to pass an exam, who are committed to obeying the laws of the road, get an opportunity to get a license," says Vasquez.

Twelve other states allow immigrants to get driver's licenses. The Erie County Clerk says the law puts him at risk of federal prosecution if licenses are issued to people who are undocumented.

But Vasquez points out that requiring a Social Security number for a state driver's license puts it out of reach for legal immigrants, like students attending state universities. He says the Green Light New York law gives those who are qualified the opportunity to be licensed.

"You still have to pay your fee," says Vasquez. “You still have to prove you are who you are. You still have to meet the minimum requirements that come along with obtaining a driver's license."

He says roughly 750,000 immigrants in New York will benefit from the law.

In many parts of New York, especially in rural areas, a car may be the only way to get to medical care, get to school or church and participate in community life. Vasquez adds that immigrants aren't the only ones who benefit from the law.

"It improves safety for all New Yorkers, by ensuring that those who are on the road have a license, that they're able to take out insurance," says Vasquez. “Also funds from this legislation would go towards public transportation infrastructure."

The petitioners in the case want to ensure that the interests of all who would be affected by the Green Light Law are represented in court.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY