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Bill in state legislature to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

Shelter Island’s representatives in the New York State Legislature are split on a bill that would give undocumented immigrants the right to have driver’s licenses.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) is an enthusiastic supporter, while State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) is giving it a thumbs down.

In a statement, Assemblyman Thiele said: “This legislation improves public safety, saves drivers insurance premiums and bolsters the local economy, and provides new revenues to state and local government. It is sound public policy that benefits everyone.”

Senator LaValle disagrees. “I was a member of a New York State Senate Task Force on Immigration and I have studied this issue,” he said. “I remain steadfast in my position that granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is a clear threat to public safety and sends a wrong message to hardworking, law-abiding New Yorkers.”

“Green Light NY,” formally known as the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, is currently in committee in both the state Senate and the Assembly.

Should the bill pass, undocumented immigrants seeking state driver’s licenses would be able to obtain only the “standard” license, one of three license types the federal government will unveil in October 2020. Unlike the forthcoming “Real ID” and “Enhanced ID licenses,” which will be valid for specific types of travel, the “standard” driver’s license cannot be used for domestic air travel, travel outside the U.S. or to gain access to federal buildings or military bases.

The standard licenses allows drivers to do just that, and not much else, and would be available to undocumented people who show proof of identity and residency, and can pass a driver’s test,

Sandra Dunn, an associate director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, gave an overview of the state bill. “It is important that we understand we’re not talking about anything new here,” Ms. Dunn said. In the past, she explained, “New York State and every state always allowed undocumented people to have access to driver’s licenses — provided they pass required tests” and show proof of residency.

However, she said, California enacted legislation in 1993 that rescinded that access and other states gradually followed suit. That occurred in New York in 2001, when former Governor George Pataki took away that access by executive order, Ms. Dunn said.

Currently, 12 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico allow undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses. A Fiscal Policy Institute study found that New York State and its counties stand to take in $57 million in revenue by allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses.

“The [state] legislation contains privacy provisions so that Department of Motor Vehicles data is not available to the entire universe,” Ms. Dunn said. “So third parties — including Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, but not limited to ICE — cannot have random bulk access to the DMV information. It’s not a special protection for the immigrant community, it’s protection that we all could have if we choose to have a standard driver’s license.”

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