June 18, 2019 By Meghan Sackman
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law Monday a bill that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
Cuomo signed the bill shortly after it passed narrowly in the state senate yesterday, by a vote of 33 to 29. The bill passed the Assembly last week, which had the strong support of Assembly Member Catalina Cruz.
The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, sponsored by State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda and backed by senators Jessica Ramos and Mike Gianaris, passed after fierce debate.
Opponents of the law argue that it gives the undocumented the privileges that should be bestowed upon those who are here legally. With the undocumented being able to use foreign documents to apply for a license, some opponents are also concerned about fraud. Others cite the potential for voter fraud.
Supporters of the controversial bill say the new law is necessary so undocumented immigrants can get to their jobs and access healthcare. Furthermore, many undocumented immigrants drive anyway.
Supporters also argue that there will be fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road, making the roads less dangerous. Additionally, the new law will bring in state revenue, with $84 million expected to come in over the first three years.
Queens representatives State Senator Mike Gianaris and State Senator Jessica Ramos, who have been long-time advocates for the bill, voiced their support during yesterday’s senate session.
“It’s a civil rights issue,” said Ramos in her statement before giving her official yes vote. “Are you really going to deny people the ability to drive their kids to school, take their loved ones to access health care, or any other resource? Where is your humanity?” she asked.
Gianaris, after a two hour debate, praised the senate as he voted in favor of the bill.
“I am proud to help lead a Senate that finally stands for justice,” Gianaris said. “I will continue to fight against gross, anti-immigrant rhetoric that dehumanizes immigrants who make our state the remarkable, diverse center of the world that it is.”
Applicants will be able to use foreign documents to get a license. These include an unexpired passport from the country of citizenship or a foreign driver’s license. The legislation will require the applicant to sign an affidavit that they have not received a Social Security number.
The license would have a stamp on it indicating that it is not eligible for federal identification and would not allow the license holder to vote.
Governor Cuomo, who has been a long time supporter of the bill, did waver on his decision based on the concern that the law might essentially be giving a list of undocumented immigrants to the federal government. Cuomo’s qualms were eased after being reassured by state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood that there would be protections.
Under the legislation, license holders must be notified within three days if any request is made to see their personal files. A court order would have to be filed in order for the state to release the personal information to the federal government.
The law will go into effect in 180 days, making New York the 13th state in the U.S. to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.