Immigrant rights groups, religious leaders, labor union groups and residents rallied in Hauppauge June 7 to advocate for a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Proponents of the bill argue that it would improve public safety and the economy. The bill would require undocumented immigrants to take a driver’s license exam and be able to buy car insurance.
“We are disappointed that the six Democratic senators have not come out in favor of Green Light yet,” said Patrick Young, program director of the Hempstead-based Central American Refugee Center.
Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, recently said he called the six senators who represent Long Island to warn them about the potential political backlash of supporting the bill, according to an article in Gothamist.
“Jay Jacobs advised them not to support the bill,” Young said. “There may be opposition to the bill, but the people who voted for [the senators] did oppose Green Light.”
According to Young, many of the senators campaigned in support of the bill but now have changed their stance. One of those he said in particular was New York State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).
“She said she would support it, now she’s saying she’s not supporting it,” he said. “We need her to come back on board.”
After the rally, volunteers began calling the six Long Island state senators in hopes of getting them to reconsider their stance on the bill.
“We told them if you don’t vote for it for political reasons, we will start this campaign back up again in January,” he said. “This is not going away.”
Republicans in the state legislature have shared opposition to the Green Light NY bill, with many arguing that allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses would leave county clerks and employees at local Departments of Motor Vehicles unable to truly verify authenticity.
“We must put the brakes on this unfair proposal which ignores the overwhelming opposition of our citizens to grant this privilege to illegal immigrants,” said New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in a release. “We must red light the Green Light bill that simply opens up our system to fraud and places a burden on county clerks and DMV employees to verify the authenticity of foreign documents as proof of identification,”
New York State Sen. Ken LaValle had similar sentiments.
“I was a member of a New York State Senate Task Force on Immigration and I have studied this issue at great length,” he said in a release. “I remain steadfast in my position that granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is not good public policy, presents a clear threat to public safety and sends a wrong message to the law-abiding people I represent,”
Ivan Larios, of the New York Immigration Coalition, said there are misconceptions with this bill, one being that it will somehow allow undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship.
“The bill will allow them to purchase a vehicle and get insurance,” he said. “And do everything by the books.”
Larios said in some cases many individuals decide to drive without a license and take the risk of being pulled over, though if they were to get into an accident it would leave them in a tough situation.
“This is very important for families because it allows them to take their kids to school, go to work, do everyday stuff, said Larios. “And they would have to go through the same process [of getting a license] just like you and me have to go through.”
The bill has passed through the state assembly but is facing some opposition by Democrats, even in a Democrat-controlled state senate. The measure is expected to be voted on in the upcoming weeks.
Young said every other Democratic in the state is supporting the bill and they have 25 co-sponsors as well as another six senators that would vote for the bill
“Though none of them are from Long Island and that is horrific,” he said.