Opinion

Cuomo Worried ICE Would Target Undocumented Immigrants with Driver’s Licenses, Signed ‘Green Light Bill’ Anyway

Monday night, after a seriously shaky start, the New York State Senate, with a 33 to 29 vote, finally passed the “Green Light Bill.” The controversial measure allows undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive driver’s licenses.

Prior to the Green Light Bill’s passage on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wasn’t sold that the idea would go off without a hitch; Cuomo expressed worry that under the Trump Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), would use driver registration information to target undocumented immigrants for deportation. Cuomo reached out to the New York Attorney General’s office on the matter, and vowed not to sign the bill if the federal government would be able to access licensees’ personal information.

A few hours later, apparently no longer concerned that the plan would pose a risk to immigrants, Cuomo signed the Green Light Bill into law.

Unlike Cuomo, who appears to have adjusted his priorities, New York State Attorney General Letitia James supported the bill without qualification, and vowed to defend it should the need arise.

This isn’t the first we’re hearing about undocumented immigrants and driver’s licenses. In 2007, then-Governor Eliot Spitzer issued an executive order directing state offices to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.  Under that order, applicants would not have been required to show legal immigration status, and would have been allowed to use foreign passports for identification.  Spitzer’s order garnered much media attention, when, a month later, he altered it so that the licenses issued to undocumented immigrants would look different from typical licenses, and would deny holders access airplanes and federal buildings. Spitzer ultimately withdrew his order in the wake of public opposition to the plan – and shortly thereafter was caught up in his own troubles.

In addition to New York, 12 other states and Washington D.C. already allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Advocates for the policy point to economic advantages, such as toll and gas revenue, auto sales, insurance, and license and registration fees. Furthermore, the measure cuts down on uninsured motorists, which has implications for all drivers and pedestrians. More broadly, in a society in which driver’s licenses indicate lawful presence, licensees can more fully participate in the economy and the work force.

New York’s law will go into effect in 180 days, granting undocumented immigrants licenses starting this December.

New York State, and in particular, New York City, has had a long history of immigrant-friendly legal policies. In fact, at a 1994 press conference, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “Some of the hardest-working and most productive people in this city are undocumented aliens. If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city. You’re somebody that we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often a life of being like a fugitive, which is really unfair.” Sure, Rudy has significantly changed his tune since then, but plenty of New Yorkers still agree with his former sentiment.

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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