Illegal immigrants in the state of New York will soon be able to obtain driver’s licenses, under a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Monday night.
The bill passed 33-29 in the Senate before making its way to the governor’s desk, ending months of debate on what The New York Times called “a deeply polarizing issue that had splintered Democrats and stirred backlash among Republicans in New York and beyond.”
According to USA Today, Cuomo suggested he might veto the bill over concerns that federal immigration officials might get their hands on the records of illegal applicants, but decided to sign it after reassurance from Attorney General Letitia James.
Under the new law, residents without a social security number (and with no legal status for being in the United States) may use foreign documents such as passports to obtain state-issue driver’s licenses from the Department of Motor Vehicles. New York joins 12 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing illegal immigrants to drive, and New Jersey is currently considering a similar measure.
Support for the New York laws was largely divided by party lines, with every Republican opposing it, according to The Daily Caller.
Critics say the new law is unconstitutional on its face, and serves as a disincentive for immigrants to pursue legal citizenship. Ahead of the vote, one county clerk even declared he would refuse to issue driver’s licenses to illegal applicants, no matter what the law says.
Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola told WRGB-TV, “My approach is we’re not going to give these licenses to illegal immigrants. People have already violated this law by breaking into this country and we view this bill as kind of waiving all that.”
Merola added, “Apparently you’re breaking the law by driving illegally without a license and without insurance and we’re not going to reward that behavior here in Rensselaer County.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, The Times noted there are roughly 940,000 illegal immigrants living in New York state. The group estimates that 882,000 people within that population are of working age, 600,000 of whom are employed.
USA Today reported that advocates say the new law will allow those workers to obtain “insurance and avoid the threat of deportation if they are pulled over.”
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