Renewed Calls for Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented New Yorkers

Lacking a driver’s license makes it difficult for undocumented people to perform everyday errands such as taking their children to school or going grocery shopping. (Photo from New York Immigration Coalition via El Diario)

The ability to drive a vehicle without fear is a necessity, not a privilege, said Luis Jiménez, an immigrant, at a press conference held in Albany on Tuesday to unveil the “Green Light NY Driving Together” campaign. The initiative aims to obtain access to driver’s licenses for all New Yorkers regardless of their immigration status.

The father of U.S.-born children does not want his kids to suffer because he is undocumented. “It is sad to tell them, I can’t take you to basketball practice. I can’t take you here or there,” lamented Jiménez, who was joined by other activists and elected officials during the program’s presentation.

The campaign’s objective is to demonstrate the benefits of expanding access to driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers and to push forward a piece of legislation that State Assemblymember Francisco Moya will introduce in the coming weeks.

Moya said that in areas where there is no public transportation, undocumented people face obstacles doing errands such as shopping, transporting their children to and from school or simply going to work. “It is time to take a stand, say that bigotry is not welcome in New York, and remove the needless roadblocks immigrants face so they can provide for their families,” said the assembly member.

Moya’s bill stipulates that the personal information provided by applicants may not be stored indefinitely and that any agency seeking to have access to this data must obtain a court order.

An estimated 570,000 undocumented immigrants live in New York City’s five boroughs, according to a report published by the office of City Comptroller Scott Stringer analyzing the impact that obtaining the permit would have on this population.

The report states that, while they contribute $1.1 billion in taxes to the city and the state every year, undocumented workers miss out on job opportunities, live in fear of being deported and spend less time with their families because the law does not allow them to drive and they must resort to public transportation.

Moreover, the comptroller’s office said that road safety would improve, as people applying for a license must learn traffic laws and they will be required to buy insurance, which would benefit all drivers.

The bill proposed by Moya comes at a moment when immigrants are worried about the decisions President Donald Trump is making. “I feel intimidated by the politics of the new administration,” said Rey Morales, an immigrant who said that he would greatly benefit from having a driver’s license. “A license is a shield against racism and discrimination,” he aded.

It was attempted before

This is not the first time that the state of New York attempted to expand driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers regardless of their immigration status. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer explored the possibility of allowing undocumented people to obtain the document by presenting their foreign passport or another proof of identity at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Spitzer tried different ways to get the measure approved, but strong opposition from politicians and the public did not allow him to ease the rules his predecessor George Pataki had put in place. In 2002, Pataki stated that only New Yorkers with a social security card could get a driver’s license.

Six years later, state Sen. José Peralta and Assemblymember Luis Sepúlveda revived the issue with a similar proposal. They introduced a bill authorizing the DMV to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants, and specified that the license could not be required to determine the immigration status of its carrier. However, the measure was never approved by the legislature in Albany.

Comptroller Stringer believes that the time is right to change this policy. “When backwards rhetoric and backwards policymaking are pouring out of Washington, this is a forward-looking proposal for New York state to meaningfully empower communities that need our support,” said Stringer.

Twelve states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico already issue licenses to undocumented immigrants. Stringer said that expanding these licenses would not only reflect the New York value of embracing newcomers but that it would make roads safer, bring immigrants out of the shadows and save everyone money.


  • 150,000 undocumented people would benefit from having a driver’s license in New York City.
  • New York state could make up to $9.6 million in license fees.
  • The auto industry could see sales increases of 2.7 percent.
  • Preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining the permit signifies an additional $17.22 per person in insurance fees for New Yorkers with a driver’s license.

List of places that have approved the measure and year approved:

  • California – 2013
  • Colorado – 2013
  • Connecticut – 2013
  • Delaware – 2015
  • Hawaii – 2015
  • Illinois – 2013
  • Maryland – 2013
  • Nevada – 2013
  • New Mexico – 2003
  • Puerto Rico – 2014
  • Utah – 2005
  • Vermont – 2013
  • Washington – 1993
  • Washington D.C. – 2013

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