Long lines at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles office on Fort Greene Place in Brooklyn on Monday, the first day undocumented immigrants could apply for driver’s licenses. (Jeff Bachner/for New York Daily News)
The groan-inducing lines at city Department of Motor Vehicles offices were even longer than usual on Monday — but most of those queued up were OK with the wait.
Hundreds of undocumented immigrants from across the five boroughs braved wintry weather and stood in hours-long lines to take advantage of a new state law giving them the “green light” to obtain driver’s licenses.
Ivan Blanco arrived at the DMV office in Flushing, Queens, at 8 a.m. Seven hours later, he was on his way to being approved for a standard state driver’s license under the new Green Light Law, which allows all New Yorkers over the age of 16 to apply for a standard, non-federal license or learner’s permit regardless of their citizenship or legal status.
“I thank God for his help today,” the Colombia native said. “You can take your kids to school. You can drive to work. You can keep your family more relaxed.”
“Many people here drive without a license. That’s wrong,” he said.
The rush of applicants overwhelmed workers at the DMV office in the Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, where dozens were being turned away as the end of the business day drew near.
Carlos Garcia, an undocumented construction worker who moved to the U.S. from Mexico as a teen, was told he wouldn’t be let in after an hours-long wait.
“I’m going to come back tomorrow. I really need it,” he said, noting that a license will help him get work and take his three kids to school or on vacation.
“As soon as I get the license and the permit, I’m going to get the car, and I can drive and can work,” he added.
Catherine Jimenez, 35, a floral designer who lives and work in Queens, said she has been unable to drive since arriving in New York over two years ago from Mexico and was happy about the prospect of getting behind the wheel once again.
The 57-year-old construction worker echoed advocates as he touted the benefits of the measure, saying the law will help keep people safe and be a boon to the state by giving immigrants a chance to legally drive.
“It’s necessary for a lot of things. School. Go to the mall. Go for a trip,” she said. “It’s a status.”
Under the Green Light Law, foreign documents such as passports or a driver’s license can be submitted and used in the application process.
Applicants must still get a permit and pass a road test to qualify for a standard driver’s license.
The measure withstood several legal challenges from upstate Republicans and threats from defiant county clerks in charge of some DMV offices who claimed the law is dangerous and puts them in a precarious spot.
Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, one of several clerks who sued to block the law, said his office turned away a person who wanted a driver’s permit but lacked a Social Security number.
“I was pretty adamant that I was going to have a tough time doing it out of my office,” Merola told the Associated Press. “That might have discouraged people coming to my office.”
The Republican said his office directed the applicant across the Hudson River to the state-run DMV office in Albany.
Advocates said the day was a success as they tweeted out celebratory videos of immigrants waiting to apply for learner’s permits at DMV offices across the state.
“Today is a historic day for our immigrant communities!” Brooklyn-based group Make the Road NY tweeted. “Access to driver’s licenses, regardless of immigration status has been officially restored.”
New York previously allowed licenses to be given to migrants in the country illegally before the practice was halted by then-Gov. George Pataki in 2001.
A dozen other states already have similar legislation on the books and New Jersey lawmakers approved their own version on Monday.
Eddie Taveras, the New York immigration manager with the advocacy group FWD.us said the new rule will do more than just make the roads safer in the Empire State.
“The Green Light Law will improve the safety of New York’s roads, provide a new revenue stream for the state and help keep families together,” Taveras said. “But it also sends an important message, underscoring the fact that New York is — and always has been — a state of immigrants, leading the way on tolerance and inclusivity for the nation and the world.”