Presenting Driver’s Licenses for All

By: Vijai Naraine

Presenting Driver’s Licenses for All

Recently, there has been a push to help the immigrant community in New York City. The city and state have partnered with the New York Immigration Coalition in an effort to assist individuals who have an immigrant status, so that they can legally obtain a driver’s license.

According to David Dyssegaard Kallick, the Deputy Director of Immigration Research, the Fiscal Policy Institute, “This year, New York State… is finally revisiting the question of allowing all state residents, including undocumented immigrants, to apply for a driver’s license…Until 2003, New York State allowed residents to apply for driver’s licenses without regard to their immigration status….”

On March 1, 2019, New York Law School was the venue for various key government officials and other individuals who took part in a conference called, “Driver’s Licenses for All: The Path, the Benefits, and How It Will Work In New York.”

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute “…. New York should follow the example of the 12 other states– plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico- -that currently makes it possible for all residents who pass the driver’s test and meet other requirements, to get a license….”

The Institute points to a statistic that could be considered a benefit. “Everyday tasks such as getting to work, shopping for groceries, or picking up kids from school will be vastly easier for an estimated 265,000 people across New York State, including 64,000 people living north of New
York City….”

In support of driver’s licenses for all, Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez, was a keynote speaker at the event. According to Mr. Gonzalez, “I want to thank everyone who is speaking out on this important issue. As the Brooklyn District Attorney, I am committed to keeping my community safe and promoting the trust in our criminal justice system.…” This legislation would allow New York State residents to earn their driver’s licenses, regardless of their immigration status…. It fits squarely into my mission of keeping us safe; that’s why I support this legislation; my highest obligation is public safety.…”

Mr. Gonzalez went as far as to say, “…I have been on the forefront of ensuring the fairness for our immigrant friends. In the face of Trump’s administration all -out assault on immigrants, I have taken new steps in my office to protect and provide equal treatment. My office has an
immigrant affairs unit tasked with investigating scam and frauds that are focused on immigrants. A license identification is crucial to anyone who has to deal with government entities or banks, and as I said, anyone who has to deal with law enforcement….”

Mr. Kallick said, “…In terms of economic impacts, I think it is big, in some ways it is very life changing. It is a big benefit to immigrants and their families, so they can do things like go get their kids after school and getting jobs…” There is a significance in having a license, especially if you live out of state, according to Mr. Kallick, “…Without a license you are losing as an employee, but the employer loses too, you may be/could be working for a high paying company, but you simply just can’t get there….”

The efforts to fight for undocumented New Yorkers to get a driver’s license seems to be gaining traction, in terms gaining support.

City and State is a political journalism organization. The company’s editor-in-chief, Jon Lentz, attended the conference. As he spoke about the issue at hand, he stated, “As some of you may remember in September 2007, then Governor Eliot Spitzer issued a grant that issued driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, he called it a, ‘common sense change…’, however Spitzer backed off…” Lentz continued by saying that Spitzer said, “… I am not willing to fight to the bitter end for something that will not ultimately be implemented.” After giving a brief flashback to Spitzer’s attempts, Mr. Lentz said, “….New York is now on the verge of taking the
same action and actually following through.”

Zach Ahmad, of Policy Counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union talked briefly on the matter of what having a driver’s license may mean, in terms of giving a sense of security to undocumented individuals. Mr. Ahmad said, “The beauty of this, there is a standard license law, which gives privacy…preventing the DMV from knowing if you are undocumented.”

Pamela Chomba is a member of FWD.us. FWD.us is a 501c lobbying group based in the United States, which is focused on mending the failing immigration and criminal justice systems that may be preventing American dreams. Ms. Chomba spoke at the conference, speaking about the economic flow that undocumented individuals can provide the country with. She
stated, “…Economic mobility means that more families, more young adults, and older adults can go to different services and have have fun…” Continuing, she said, “…Increasing the economic flow, but at the same time making sure those families are together and safe…”

As Senator Catalina Cruz said, “I am looking forward to finally winning this victory for you and for all undocumented New Yorkers.” Going off of this notion, fiscalpolicy.org, states under a section, entitled, Reinforcing New York’s Position as a State that Welcomes Immigrants and Benefits from Their Contributions, “Taking positive action on immigration, particularly in the current political climate, is also a way to send a message to businesses thinking about locating or expanding in New York that the state values its labor force, and welcomes immigrant business owners, employees, customers, and residents…”

Taking into consideration that New York has not yet pass a bill on the issue, New York State Assemblywoman, Catalina Cruz stated, “We have a Democratic everything this time around, so what will be the excuse this time if the bill is not passed?”

Along with Ms. Cruz, the conference’s discussion panel consisted of members such as, Senator Julia Salazar. Ms.Salazar believes that undocumented immigrants deserve to get a license. She said, “I am the youngest woman to be elected to the state senate. I am proud to be apart of this movement….It is straightforward, undocumented New Yorkers deserve to get a driver’s license, just as much as a citizen or permanent resident or anyone else in New York…”

In her closing remarks,Senator Cruz said, “I am looking forward to finally winning this victory for you and for all undocumented New Yorkers. To me alone, this should compel us to fight to pass Greenlight Legislation.”

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