Panel Urges Albany to Pass Driver’s Licenses Bill that Benefits ‘Everyone’

City & State NY Editor in Chief Jon Lentz, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, New York Civil Liberties Union policy counsel Zach Ahmad and Mexican immigrant Natalia Francisco at the forum entitled “Driver’s Licenses Now: The Path, the benefits and how it will work in New York.” (Photo by Edwin Martinez via El Diario)

Ever since the new State Legislature reconvened in January, its two chambers have hit the ground running, approving such long-stalled progressive initiatives as the women’s reproductive rights act and the Dream Act. (…) Still, the bill to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented people does not seem to be moving forward at the same speed.

For this reason, at a forum held on Friday at the New York Law School, a panel of leaders, activists and politicians urged lawmakers to make driving permits for all a reality, not just to protect immigrants and prevent deportations, but also because the licenses would signify millions of dollars in additional revenue for local and state governments.

“The truth is that licenses benefit everyone. Not only are they a source of revenue, but also a life-or-death necessity for families who need a car to make a living,” said Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz. “We cannot allow the state government to continue leaving thousands of immigrants in the shadows and treating them as second-class citizens in this state.”

The Queens representative pointed out that the passage of the law is lagging behind (…).

“I urge my colleagues to come together and push this bill forward, which should have been approved long ago. I also want to remind them that, whether they like it or not, all elected officials have undocumented people in their communities as well as mixed-status families. This is a humane act,” said the Colombian-born politician.

According to David Dyssegaard Kallick, deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, (…) it is estimated that, if the bill promoted by Bronx state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo is approved, an initial 150,000 immigrants [in NYC] would apply for the license, reaching [statewide, more than] 250,000 in three years. This would signify an additional income of $26 million in one-time fees, $28 million for the state, and $21 million for local governments.

In addition, it is estimated that the influx of money would make it possible to allocate $8.6 million for MTA improvements.

(…) “Licenses would transform the lives of workers, and this would mean better relationships between employers and employees. Approving them is good for everyone,” said Kallick.

(…) Mexican immigrant Natalia Francisco, who lives in upstate New York and is the mother of seven U.S. citizens, asked the Legislature to take the brakes off the permits bill. (…)

“I know some people do not want us, but I tell them that we are all human beings, and that is why it is urgent to have these licenses approved. We are in great need of them, especially these days with everything that is going on,” she said, admitting that, despite her fear of being caught, she has been forced to drive without a license.

“You always walk around in fear, and even though most of the time my children drive me, they have their own jobs and cannot be taking me places all the time. I am terrified to think that what happened to a cousin of mine could happen to us: He had a car crash in which the other driver was to blame, but because he did not have a license, they ended up calling immigration and deporting him,” said Francisco.

Zach Ahmad, from the New York Civil Liberties Union, explained to those opposing licenses for undocumented people citing safety reasons that the Department of Motor Vehicles, which manages all licenses, would not lower its standards. “All this law does is expand the number of people able to access licenses, and the example of other states where they have already been approved has demonstrated that there are no safety risks,” said the activist, adding that 12 states around the country are currently issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented people.

(…) Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, was optimistic that the law would pass this year.

“They no longer have an excuse not to do it. We have a majority in the Senate and the Assembly, and the governor has said that he will sign the law if it is approved. (…) It is the easiest thing we can do to protect immigrants subjected to the abuse of the Trump administration,” said Choi. (…)

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