Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Jackson Heights, introduced new legislation that would grant undocumented New Yorkers the right to obtain a state-issued driver’s license.
“Throughout most of New York, a driver’s license isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity,” Moya said. “I introduced new legislation that is REAL ID compliant, and will allow the DMV to issue a driver’s license regardless of your immigration status,” he added, referring to the federal standards for drivers’ licenses and identification cards.
The new bill (A.04050) would require undocumented New Yorkers to go through the same tests, and meet the same standards as citizens. Proof of identity and age must be established, and because undocumented New Yorkers don’t have a Social Security card, Moya said applicants “can use a sworn statement, under the penalty of perjury, stating their identity.”
The bill states it would be up to the DMV commissioner to decide which forms of identification would be appropriate for a special drivers’ license that could not be used for state and federal identification purposes, but would give police a way to verify the driver’s identification and their ability to operate a motor vehicle.
In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer attempted to create a similar policy via executive order and through a bill, which was defeated in the Senate 39-19. He dropped the proposal after heavy opposition.
Supporters of the current bill point to the money it could generate and to improved safety, by ensuring that every driver has passed the state’s written exam and road test.
The new law would generate $57 million in combined annual government revenues plus $26 million in one-time revenues, according to the bill memo. The influx of new insurance policies would also drop premiums by an estimated $17 a year for every driver in the state, the bill states.
Moya said information compiled for the special licenses could not be used to enforce immigration policies.
“This bill ensures that the information applicants provide can never be used against them. Records will be kept separate from traditional driver’s licenses, and immigration status will never be recorded, or retained. Information provided will not be considered public record, and will not be disclosed without the person’s permission, or without a subpoena of it specifically identifies the individual.”
There is no same-as bill in the Senate, as of press time.
Moya was joined by the New York Immigration Coalition, the Fiscal Policy Institute, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other advocates in announcing his bill. Watch the event in a video below.
“We’re telling you that we’re making a choice, and we are making a choice in pushing forward this driver’s license legislation because it’s good for immigrants, and it’s good for New York,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. The NYIC is an umbrella organization for nearly 200 groups that advocates for immigrants and refugees.
Supporters of the bill say current politics is a consideration for introducing the bill now.
“In the first 10 days in office the president has put himself on the wrong side of history, and turned his back on American tradition,” said Stinger, referring to President Trump’s immigration policies. “We’re here today to stand up for our values,” continued Stinger, “because as the White House tries to take America backwards, we believe in moving New York forwards.”
New analyses from both Stinger and the Fiscal Policy find significant social and economic benefits of extending driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, they said.
“This move will respect the dignity and the self-worth of undocumented immigrants so that they go to work,” said Choi. “They can drive their kids to school, or the hospital, and not have to worry about being deported or their car impounded.”
The analyses found the new licenses would help support immigrant families by expanding job opportunities, while modestly lowering insurance premiums for all state drivers and improving public safety on roadways, with the fiscal costs of implementing the proposal more than offset by added revenues.
“The limited purpose driver’s license would cut off hours of people’s commutes, while generating millions in revenue throughout New York state,” said Moya. “The 150,000 drivers expected to sign up in New York City alone would generate $9.6 million to the state of New York, and $1.3 million to the Metropolitan Transport Authority.” Those numbers represent money generated by license fees alone.
According to Stringer’s report, “The Road to Opportunity: Granting Driver’s Licenses to All New Yorkers,” a boost in sales for the auto industry is expected to rise by 2.7 percent, generating $4.2 million in one-time registration and title fees. An annual revenue of about $730,000 for New York state, $840,000 in vehicle use taxes for New York city and $1.4 million for the MTA. The expected increase in motor fuel consumption would generate an additional $8.3 million per year in state gas tax revenues, which are dedicated to funding transportation infrastructure.
“To all levels of government across the state, $57 million would be generated yearly statewide,” Moya continued, “and an additional $27 million in one-time revenue to the state.”
Insurance costs would drop for all holders, helping thousands of families across the state. “The $17 expected to fall off of insurance premiums a year makes all the difference to workers living paycheck to paycheck,” said Moya.
“It also goes a long way to make sure our streets are safer,” Choi continued, “that every single driver on the road is licensed and registered, insured, with certified vehicles as well. It’s also going to cut insurance costs for everybody.
“When more people are licensed, new revenues rise because people are buying cars, buying gas and spending in many ways,” Choi said.
“When more people are licensed we estimate that families would purchase some 56,000 in New York City alone, generating more than $20 million in vehicle and gasoline sales taxes for the state and city,” Stringer continued, “undocumented New Yorkers already pay more than $1.1 billion dollars in state taxes.”
Conducted through a series of case studies, Stringer’s report found the five benefits of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses are improvements in public safety, stronger families and financial stability, increased employment opportunities, lower auto insurance premiums and increased revenues that would offset program costs.
“We’re not here today to break new ground…we’re actually behind in New York,” said Stringer, “Twelve other states do this.” California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington state, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico currently issue licenses to undocumented residents.
David Kallick, Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative, said an additional 97,000 cars would be sold and registered within the first three years of the change. “In economic terms, that’s good car sales, of course, but it’s also good for employers who can count people being able to get to work,” said Kallick, “and it’s also good for local economies, as people with access to transportation can find a better match in the economy.”
The research from the FPI states that expanding accesses to driver’s licenses will pay for itself. “The cost of licenses in New York is relatively high,” said Kallick, “$64.25 is the standard cost. That’s sufficient to cover the costs of testing and licensing.”
The new legislation will be introduced with full support of the Green Light NY: Driving Together Coalition, a statewide coalition of immigrant organizations who have been advocating for licenses as a way to better protect and integrate immigrant communities in New York.
Mayra Hildalgo Salazar, executive director of the Hudson Valley Communication Coalition, spoke from her own experience, growing up as an undocumented immigrant due to an overstayed visa, her mother working to provide their family a better life without the ability to obtain a license.
“I remember, every morning I would wake up for school and high school, my mom, she would be rushing around getting everything ready…and then I would witness the change my mother would undergo the second she was behind the wheel,” said Salazar.
She began to cry as she said “my mother risked deportation every morning to take me to school. I was able to go to college…because of the sacrifices she made,” she added.
“I wish I could stand here and tell you that it was all worth it,” Salazar continued, “but I’m actually very angry. I’m very angry that there are still mothers in this state that have to go through that for their children to go to school, to have a chance.”
“The bottom line is hard working families deserve a chance to realize the American dream,” said Stringer, “and earning a driver’s license is a critical step in that process.”
Rey Morales is an Orange County resident and a member of the group Community Voices who would benefit from being granted a driver’s license.
“I feel intimidated by the politics of the new administration,” Morales said. “I feel that all that is happening affects us and impedes our advancement in our path. I believe the fight will be stronger now and we need to reinvent our plans and strategy. We must continue to fight for licenses in New York because that way we will better protected and we can protect our families. A license is a shield against racism and discrimination.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; the Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, Steven Choi; Assemblyman Francisco Moya; and other speakers talk about the social and economic benefits of granting drivers’ licenses to undocumented New Yorkers.