ALBANY – A bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in New York is gaining support in the Democratic controlled state legislature. Under the so-called “Green Light” legislation pending in Albany, applicants would no longer be required to show proof they are in the country legally when applying for a license. They could use foreign passports to establish their identity and obtain a standard driver’s license, once, of course, they pass the same tests as everyone else.
Proponents of the bill say New Yorkers will be safer if fewer undocumented immigrants are driving illegally. That’s because those who would get licenses will have taken a driving test and will be able to get insurance and car inspections.
But opposition is growing against the proposal and several upstate county sheriffs, county clerks and state lawmakers are explaining why they oppose the measure.
Last week WRFA had Republican Assemblyman Andrew Goodell (R-Ellicott, 150th Assembly District) on the air and asked him about the legislation. Goodell – like others who oppose the change – said he is opposed to the bill because it could create several problems – including challenges for DMV officials trying to rely on and authentic birth certificates and other documents from dozens other countries. In addition, he said there is the concern about motor-voter registration – with federal law allowing anyone who applies for a drivers license to also have the ability to register to vote.
For Goodell, the issue is nothing more than a political effort by downstate lawmakers in New York City.
“The vast majority of the people who live and work in New York City use public transportation – subways and buses. So why the push for drivers licenses? The answer is the illegal immigrants have legal relatives. The number of legal immigrants in New York City is much, much higher than it is in Upstate. So the political reason they’re pushing for drivers licenses for illegal immigrants is to curry votes from they’re legal relatives in New York City who want to see more opportunities for their illegal relatives,” Goodell said.
According to the New York Times, there are an estimated 725,000 undocumented immigrants in New York State, making up more than 5 percent of the labor force in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates they pay $1.1 billion in state and local taxes each year, .
The Times also says a third of the undocumented immigrants live in the suburbs and upstate, where people rely on cars to get to work and school.
Goodell disagrees with the information regarding the economic contribution made by undocumented immigrants, as well as the notion that they should be allowed to legally drive because so many are working.
“Advocates say we need to provide drivers licenses to illegal immigrants so they can drive to and from work. The problem with that concept – if you think about it – is, we say, ‘You come hear to New York illegally. You’re not allowed to work under federal or start laws because you’re illegally here, so we’re going to give you a drivers license so you can drive to a job that’s not legal for you to have,'” Goodell said. “Because they’re here illegally they don’t have a social security number, which means the illegal aliens who are working in the state aren’t paying any state or federal taxes. So we’re granting a great benefit normally reserved for residents to people who are engaged in long-term tax evasion, working at an illegal job and who are illegally here in the first place. I just don’t see why we have a public policy of promoting, helping, and facilitating illegal activity.”
Joining Goodell locally in the effort to speak out against the proposal is Chautauqua County Clerk Larry Barmore, who sent out a letter earlier this week to the media voicing his concerns over the bill and the implications it has with voter registration – giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to register to vote.
“If this bill passes, any person, regardless of immigration status can obtain a driver’s license by showing a birth certificate or passport from any one of 195 countries around the world. This will require our DMV employees to become educated in what these documents look like,” Barmore said. “I can imagine rampant forging of these documents by those looking to make a few dollars. For years, legal NYS citizens have been required to produce 6 points of identification including a social security card in order to qualify for a license but not if this bill passes. Under the new regulations an applicant does not have to produce a social security card but can sign a form instead stating that they do not have one.”
There are some county leaders and county sheriffs In New York who’ve voiced support for the measure, including those in the Hudson Valley, Albany, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Twelve other states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico already allow undocumented immigrants to have a drivers license.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that if both chambers of the legislature approve the measure, he will sign it into law.