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Driving Licenses for All New Yorkers

HOST INTRO: In the state of New York undocumented immigrants aren’t allowed to apply for driving licenses. Now lawmakers and activists across the state are working to change that. New legislation has been proposed that would enable all New Yorkers the right to apply, regardless of their immigration status. Sophia Ahmadi reports.

AHMADI 1: State Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa is one of several democrats backing a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license. She says that residents in New York are not always close to public transportation and that licenses are key to people living their daily lives, that includes holding down a job and taking care of their families.

DE LA ROSA 1: And so, if they have three children and they have to drive those children to school, they need a car. If there is an emergency, a medical emergency, what are these people supposed to do?

AHMADI 2: Staten Island resident Casiano Hernandez agrees. He spoke this Wednesday outside city hall on just how much difference a license can really make. He fell ill and it took his family, none of which had a license, hours to get him to the hospital.

HERNANDEZ 1: (Speaks Spanish:)  El doctor que me atendió… And the doctor who attended me questioned me why it took me so long to get to the hospital because if I had waited another hour I could really have died the same day.

FERNANDEZ 1: Having a car, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

AHMADI 3: Eliana Fernandez is a community organizer for immigrant advocacy group Make The Road. Like many others she says transportation isn’t the only issue here.

FERNANDEZ 2: One of the biggest concerns is the direct pipeline between driving without a license and deportation.

AHMADI 4: Routine traffic stops have become a mechanism for immigration enforcement. Something Assemblywoman De La Rosa witnessed first hand when she visited the Orange County correctional facility two months ago. There she met with detainees set to be deported.

DE LA ROSA 2:  And I would say that of the maybe 40 detainees that I spoke to at least 35, so 95 percent of them were in there because of a traffic infraction. So we know this is a mechanism being used in order to deport our family members.

AHMADI 5: Advocates also claim that the new bill will bring in significant revenue for the state — over $50 million annually through taxes and fees.

Council member Ydanis Rodríguez presented a resolution before City Council this Wednesday which was approved that afternoon. The resolution now goes to the state senate and assembly.

For Columbia Radio News, I’m Sophia Ahmadi.

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