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North Fork group touts benefits of licenses for undocumented immigrants

A group called the North Fork Unity Action Committee is part of a statewide coalition that is trying to muster support for a bill in the state Legislature that would give undocumented immigrants the right to have driver’s licenses. 

But both of the North Fork’s state legislators say they are opposed to the proposal. 

The committee met Monday to discuss the issue at St. Agnes School in Greenport.

Sandra Dunn, an associate director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, gave an overview of the state bill, known as Green Light NY. 

“It is important that we understand we are not talking about anything new here,” Ms. Dunn said. In the past, she explained, “New York State and every state always allowed undocumented people to have access to driver’s licenses — provided they pass required tests” and show proof of residency.

However, she said, California enacted legislation in 1993 that rescinded that access and other states gradually followed suit. That occurred in New York in 2001, when former governor George Pataki took away that access by executive order, Ms. Dunn said. 

Currently, only 12 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico allow undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses. 

Green Light NY, formally known as the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, is currently in committee in both the state Senate and the Assembly. 

Should the bill pass, undocumented immigrants seeking state driver’s licenses would be able to obtain only the “standard” license, one of three license types the federal government will unveil in October 2020, according to Ms. Dunn. Unlike the forthcoming Real ID and Enhanced ID licenses, which will be valid for specific types of travel, the “standard” driver’s license cannot be used for domestic air travel, travel outside the U.S. or to gain access to federal buildings or military bases. 

The standard licenses allows drivers to do just that, and not much else, and would be available to undocumented people who show proof of identity and residency, and can pass a driver’s test, Ms. Dunn said.

“The [state] legislation contains privacy provisions so that Department of Motor Vehicles data is not available to the entire universe,” Ms. Dunn said. “So third parties — including Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, but not limited to ICE — cannot have random bulk access to the DMV information. It’s not a special protection for the immigrant community, it’s protection that we all could have if we choose to have a standard driver’s license.”

Ms. Dunn said the legislation would “also limit the ability of the DMV to retain records for a long period of time. If you have a Real ID or an Enhanced ID, your ID will be scanned and held at the DMV for 10 years. With the standard license, your records cannot be held for that long. It’s again to protect people’s privacy.”

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said the part of the bill pertaining to the information about undocumented immigrants “is a big problem I have with this.”

“I think it’s a bad idea the way its currently written,” Mr. Palumbo said of the proposed law. “They are not allowing disclosure of the information for law enforcement purposes. That is a huge issue that needs to be resolved.” 

In addition, he said, the bill requires the DMV to destroy their applications within six months, he said. 

“A citizen’s application they can keep, but an undocumented immigrant’s application they have to destroy,” Mr. Palumbo said. 

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also opposes the bill. 

“I was a member of a NYS Senate Task Force on Immigration and I have studied this issue,” he said. “I remain steadfast in my position that granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is a clear threat to public safety and sends a wrong message to hardworking, law-abiding New Yorkers.”

North Fork union members say there are benefits to allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses. 

“Do you want to be on the road with people who have not taken driver’s tests?” asked Carolyn Peabody. 

Ms. Dunn said the states that allowed licenses for undocumented immigrants saw big drops in the number of uninsured drivers. A Fiscal Policy Institute study found that New York State and its counties stand to take in $57 million in revenue by allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. 

Photo caption: Demonstrators marched through downtown Riverhead in March to support legislation that would grant undocumented immigrants ability to secure a driver’s license.  (Joe Werkmeister photo)

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