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NY driver's licenses for unauthorized immigrants may soon arrive

New Yorkers in general have a lot to gain if undocumented immigrants are allowed to apply for driver's licenses. An unlicensed driver is around five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident, according to statistics quoted in the New York Daily News. Drivers with no insurance -- or who fear Immigration and Customs Enforcement may take them away from their families over traffic tickets -- are far more likely to leave the scene of a wreck.

Back in 2007, then-governor Spitzer tried a number of strategies to make driver's licenses available to undocumented immigrants, but opposition to the idea was so fierce at the time that every attempt failed.

That may be changing. Just a year ago, only three states allowed unauthorized immigrants to apply for licenses. That number has already jumped to 11, according to a Seattle Times count in June. In at least one more, such a measure passed both houses of the legislature.

Even in New York, being unable to drive legally can seriously hamper access to work, and knowing that ICE could be checking the fingerprints of everyone arrested for any reason turns driver’s licensing into a major immigration issue. Yet the main purpose of driver’s licenses isn’t to monitor people’s immigration status. Driver’s licenses are about safety.

The bill would authorize the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants who can provide identification, demonstrate residence in New York and who haven’t been convicted of felonies.

Two New York state senators introduced a driver’s licensing bill for unauthorized immigrants in October, and they have the support of DREAMers, community groups, and immigration advocacy groups. Perhaps reflecting the national mood, they also have the support of Mayor-elect de Blasio and, presumably, incoming police commissioner Bill Bratton, who supported just such a proposal in 2007 when he led the Los Angeles Police Department.

Even more remarkably, bill co-sponsor José Peralta says he has the initial support of some Republicans in Albany, who may see the issue as a chance to garner Hispanic support before next year’s election.

Having legal driver’s licenses would draw undocumented immigrants out of the isolation that makes them vulnerable to scams and predators, Peralta said. Just as important all New Yorkers will be safer once we can ensure that all drivers have been trained, credentialed and insured before they get behind the wheel.

Source: New York Daily News, “New York politicians push legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license,” Albor Ruiz, Dec. 15, 2013

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