New York State lawmakers approved the hotly debated Green Light NY bill that allows undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses.
After the bill cleared the final hurdle of passage in the Democrat-controlled state Senate on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law — a move that proponents say will boost the economy and critics argue enables immigrants that illegally enter the country.
“While opponents continue to spread misinformation and stoke fears about the bill’s intent and consequences, the Assembly Majority will continue to put the needs of New Yorkers first,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “The legislation we passed today will promote public safety, protect our state’s economy and ensure every New Yorker can integrate into their community and care for their family. Making sure that every driver is trained, tested and insured will make New York’s roads safer for everyone and ensure that our industries have the labor they need to keep our economy moving.”
New York joins 12 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia that have already enacted laws allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The move further positions the Empire State in opposition to President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration stance.
“By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester). “This is the right step forward for New York State as we continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.”
The bill, which passed the state Senate by a vote of 33 to 29 and goes into effect immediately, reverses a ban enacted in 2001. Estimates on how many undocumented immigrants will benefit from the law range from 250,000 to 750,000. It will result in $83.9 million in government revenues over the first three years and $6.4 million in recurring revenue thereafter, the Fiscal Policy Institute estimates.
In effect, it allows anyone applying for a non-commercial driver’s license or learner’s permit to submit additional proofs of identity for applicants that sign an affidavit indicating that they haven’t been issued a social security number. The state will also keep that documentation private.
Fear that the federal government will use the driver’s license application paperwork to deport undocumented immigrants was a sticking point among Democrats in the debate. Cuomo had indicated he would veto the bill if he didn’t get assurances from the Solicitor General that the federal government won’t be able to access the paperwork. But he ultimately signed the bill into law Monday night after the Attorney General Letitia James said “that she believes there are ‘safeguards’ in the bill, and it can be defended; in other words, it cannot be weaponized to be used against undocumented individuals,” Cuomo’s office said in a statement.
James offered her support of the bill in a statement released Monday night.
“The legislation is well-crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” she said. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Crown Heights) took to Twitter to celebrate the bill’s passage.
“No one should have to overcome fear just to get to work, pick up their kids from school or otherwise take care of their families,” he said. Proud to fight for our immigrant communities and vote YES on #GreenLightNY.”
State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) blasted Democrats over this and other recent legislation.
“If you’ve been convicted of a serious crime or are in this country illegally, Democrats will give you everything you want and more,” he said. “But if you’re a hardworking, law-abiding, middle-class New Yorker who just wants a better life for yourself and for your family, there’s nothing for you.”
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