Undocumented immigrants will have now be able to apply and receive NYS driver’s licenses under a law green-lighted by the Legislature on Monday and signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
While Gov. Cuomo has been a stanch supporter for the bill he raised last-minute concerns about the measure. Before signing the bill, he suggested that the legislation may work against them, adding transparency and making it easier for the federal government to gain access to the illegal immigrants. “You may inadvertently be creating a database that the federal government could wind up taking,” Cuomo said on Albany’s WAMC radio on Friday. “You create a driver’s license for undocumented people, you just have to make sure you do it in a way that the feds don’t come in the next day and access that database with the exact opposite intention,” Cuomo told WAMC.
As reported by the NY Daily News, while lawmakers debated the measure, the Cuomo administration did a little research. Cuomo’s top lawyer sent a letter to state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood asking for her legal opinion on whether the bill could expose undocumented immigrants to federal immigration enforcement. “Obviously in responding to this question, we ask that you assume a Federal legal challenge to such a New York law should it be enacted, and take into consideration similar laws or circumstances in other states, as well as our current data sharing process with the Federal Government,” Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David wrote.
“The legislation is well-crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement aimed at quieting qualms. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”
NY Senate Democrats approved the bill with 33 votes, despite Republican opposition, reservations from moderate members and the governor’s last minute apprehension. “By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer,” Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said. “This is the right step forward for New York State as we continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.”
Advocates of the legislation say the so-called ‘Green Light’ bill will make over 265,000 migrants eligible for licenses thereby improving road safety. They maintain that by offering licenses to non-citizens they will thereby make them responsible to take written and road driver’s tests as well as obtain insurance and annual vehicle inspections. Before 2001, noncitizens were originally offered licenses if they passed the required tests.
“Today’s vote shows that we as New Yorkers are committed to the dignity and safety of all our community members, especially the most marginalized among us,” said bill sponsor Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx). “We are taking a stand for the rights of immigrants in the time when their livelihoods are being threatened and degraded to extreme degrees.”
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