After 18 years of struggle, the New York legislature gave immigrant rights activists a historic victory with the passage of the so-called Green Light bill.
In a narrow vote, the bill to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants passed with 33 votes in favor and 29 against, reversing a two-decade ban and putting and end to “years of political paralysis on the issue,” according to the New York Times.
Despite the upsurge in progressive politics in recent years, the Democratic midterm-elections victory brought to the table many new legislators who have just turned over former Republican seats, and whose constituents remain conservative.
That’s why taking the side of a proposal that gives some form of identification to undocumented immigrants was a thorny issue for some legislators, who gave their positive vote at the last minute.
On the same day that Green Light goes into effect in New York, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill to extend access to driver's licenses to undocumented residents.
Let's keep the momentum going and make our roads safer for the entire tri-state area! #DriversLicensesNow https://t.co/LC9iP39ETz
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“This bill is basically seen as a pro-immigrant bill,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview on WAMC radio. “So there’s no doubt that there’s a political downside.”
More than a downside, what the Green Light Bill received was an aggressive backlash from conservatives and Republican representatives, some of whom promised to take it to the courts if it was to become law.
After the events of 9/11, the then-Republican governor of New York, George E. Pataki, issued an order requiring applicants for driver’s licenses to have a Social Security number, and arguing “fears about national security,” according to the Times.
Almost 20 years later, Republican representatives like Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotiakis continue to echo the same argument:
“That should be something we should truly be concerned about in a post-9/11 world, that we’re about to issue driver’s licenses to individuals and not know exactly who they are,” Malliotakis said to CBS New York.
Despite Republican propaganda against what they call a “trend toward favoring criminals,” the reality is that the undocumented population in New York is about 940,000 and access to a driver’s license can not only improve conditions for citizens but also contribute to economic growth.
On Monday, a line of up to 3 hours walked the blocks next to the offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state, where immigrants expected to register for the application that includes a theoretical and practical examination.
Simultaneously, lawmakers in New Jersey passed a similar bill, granting 500,000 undocumented residents the possibility to apply for a license to drive a car and have insurance, which is perceived by some as a strategy to “increase safety.” Motor Vehicles Commissioner Sue Fulton, for example, told NBC that “our roads are safer when our drivers are trained, tested licensed and insured.”
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