ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push for a state law to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants hit a blue wall of resistance in the New York Legislature Monday.
The New York State Association of Police Chiefs registered its strong opposition to the proposal, which also prohibits motor vehicle clerks from sharing applicant information with law enforcement officials unless they produce a subpoena.
John Aresta, head of the association and police chief in Malverne, New York, questioned the logic of the legislation given that immigrants in the county illegally are under increasing scrutiny from federal immigrant and Customs Enforcement officials.
He contended opening licenses to people who are in violation of immigration law effectively makes it easier for them to apply than it is for citizens who must produce Social Security cards, birth certificates and utility bills to establish identification and residency in New York.
"Whether they have a legal license or not, they are still going to be worried about being scooped up by ICE," Aresta told CNHI in an interview.
Democrat Cuomo, elected to a third term as governor in November, has made the issue a priority of his legislative agenda.
Advocates, led by a labor-backed coalition called Green Light NY, claim the proposal will make New York roads safer by encouraging the thousands of undocumented workers in the state to register and insure their vehicles. Now, they argue, the immigrants are forced to drive without licenses in order to get to jobs, attend church and go grocery shopping for their families.
Similar legislation has gone nowhere in the past. But because Democrats now control both chambers of the New York Legislature, chances for passage this time are considered improved.
In 2007, then Gov. Eliot Spitzer moved forward with a similar program, but reversed course after grassroots opposition from New Yorkers and county clerks. One of the latter was Kathy Hochul of Erie County. But since becoming Cuomo's lieutenant governor, she now supports the proposal.
Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski hasn’t changed his mind. He called the idea “silly” policy.
"I'm totally against it," said Jastrzemski, whose office runs a motor vehicle bureau that processes state licenses and registrations and who serves as chairman of an association of county clerks for western New York.
A dozen states, along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, now allow individuals who lack proof of being in the country legally to get driver's licenses.
Joe Mahoney is the CNHI state reporter for New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.