Victor Cortez, an undocumented immigrant from the Rochester area, speaks out at a rally in Albany on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau
ALBANY – Democrats in the state Assembly approved a bill Wednesday that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license in New York, pressuring their Senate colleagues to do the same before the legislative session ends next week.
The Assembly voted Wednesday afternoon in favor of the bill, which would allow driver’s license applicants to use valid foreign documents — including foreign-issued passports — to verify their identity with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But while the Assembly’s passage appeared certain in recent weeks and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to sign the bill if it gets to his desk, the measure’s fate remains far less clear in the Senate.
Democrats in marginal Senate districts could face political consequences for supporting a measure that polling has shown is unpopular with voters, particular upstate and in New York City’s suburbs.
At least two Assembly Democrats publicly called out their Senate counterparts, urging them to show “courage” and put the measure to a vote.
“I hope our colleagues in this Senate garner the courage to do what’s right, not what’s popular,” said Assemblyman Phil Ramos, D-Suffolk County. “If people governed on what’s popular, they would have never freed the slaves.”
Democrats, Republicans spar over bill
For more than two hours Wednesday afternoon, Democrats and Republicans sparred over the merits of the bill, with sponsor Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx, facing dozens of questions from lawmakers from Long Island and upstate with concerns.
Supporters say the measure would allow undocumented immigrants to safely drive to work, particularly in rural areas where many drive without insurance to their work at remote farms.
Opponents countered that the bill is a security risk, questioning whether the state should reverse its post-9/11 policy of requiring a Social Security card or immigration documents for a license.
If approved, the measure would allow undocumented immigrants to receive a standard driver’s license that does not comply with the federal Real ID requirements, meaning it would not allow the license holder to board a plane.
The license would have a stamp on it saying it is not eligible for federal identification purposes.
Concern over fraudulent documents
Nick Langworthy, the incoming state GOP chair, spoke to reporters at the state Capitol on June 3, 2019, in opposition of a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Republicans raised concern with the licensing process, repeatedly asserting that the measure would raise security issues and pointing to opposition from the state Association of County Clerks, which has said its members are ill-equipped to determine whether foreign documents are valid or fraudulent.
They expressed fear over undocumented immigrants using fraudulent foreign documents to get a state ID, or using a license to try to get access to vote — something Crespo repeatedly said wouldn’t be allowed.
“I believe that the majority of the people who are seeking these licenses are actually good people,” said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island. “But there is really a security issue as well.”
She continued: “If the association itself is saying it can’t do it, isn’t that something that concerns you in this post-9/11 world?”
Crespo contends the bill would make the state safer.
He contended drivers would be more safe because fewer uninsured, unlicensed drivers would be on the road. And he said the 9/11 assailants were easier to identify because they were issued driver’s licenses.
“I understand that there will always be scenarios and examples where something can slip through the cracks,” Crespo said. “But make no mistake about it: We are enhancing public safety through this process.”
In February, a report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute estimated more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants would apply for a license if the bill is signed into law.
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