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March planned in Riverhead Tuesday to advocate for expanded access to driver’s licenses in New York

The Department of Motor Vehicles office on Old Country Road in Riverhead Monday morning. Photo: Peter Blasl

Civil rights advocates are planning a march in Riverhead tomorrow for access to driver’s licenses by undocumented immigrants.

Bills currently pending in the state legislature would expand access to standard driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.

If passed into law, the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act (also known as the Green Light bill) would authorize the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to issue standard driver’s licenses to people who are not eligible for social security cards. Applicants would be able to use a foreign passport as a form of identification.

In many parts of the state, including eastern Long Island, being able to drive is a basic transportation necessity to get to work, school and medical appointments, because the public transportation system is inadequate, advocates of the Green Light bill say.

“Expanding drivers license access is about giving everyone the opportunity to build a complete life, regardless of their immigration status,” Suffolk Chapter Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Irma Solis said. “The voices of Long Islanders are crucial to this fight, and we’re going to make sure our elected officials hear us loud and clear.”

Making driver’s licenses accessible to undocumented immigrants would improve interactions with law enforcement by making identification easier and quicker, according to advocates. It would also allow drivers to register and insure their vehicles, increasing the number of drivers with insurance — a benefit to all drivers, they argue. All applicants would be required to obtain learner’s permits and pass road tests, enhancing road safety.

Licensing thousands of new drivers will bring in new registration fees. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that this will produce $57 million in annual revenue and $27 million in one-time revenue, the NYCLU says. An estimated 265,000 undocumented immigrants would be elegible to get a license, including 51,000 on Long Island, according to the FPI report.

A dozen states have already made driver’s licenses available regardless of immigration status. New Jersey and Wisconsin currently have similar campaigns on a local level.

South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has signed on as one of the bill’s 48 co-sponsors in the assembly.

In addition to authorizing the issuance of driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status, the Green Light bill would prohibit the DMV from disclosing records or information collected from applicants to any law enforcement agency absent a judicial subpoena or judicial warrant that names the individual whose information is sought. In other words, the motor vehicles department would be blocked from honoring administrative subpoenas issued by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.

Until 2003 New York State residents were allowed to obtain driver’s licenses, regardless of their immigration status. Since then, different policies affecting driver’s licenses have changed in numerous ways in NY. Advocates of this legislation argue that by restoring access to licenses to undocumented immigrants, the state would benefit economically, in public safety and it would improve relations with police and law enforcement.

The legislation and the march are supported by the North Fork Unity Action Committee, SEPA Mujer, Rural Migrant Ministry, NYCLU, Long Island Immigrant Students Alliance, the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, the Episcopal Church North Fork Hispanic Ministry and Long Island Jobs with Justice.

A packed audience listened to advocates of the Green Light bill last week at a meeting in Riverhead to organize the March 12 march. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Last weekend, more than 200 people turned out for a community town hall meeting in advance of the march.

The event consisted of several presentations: Information about the Real ID Act and its current status in New York, what it means to drive without a license and the possible legal ramifications, information on the 12 states that currently provide undocumented immigrants access to licenses and a Q&A session.

“Restoring access to licenses in N.Y would mean for our members to be able to safely pick up their children from school and drive to work, it means being able to participate in town halls and public hearings, it means being able to be independent on Long Island and not rely on public transportation,” SEPA Mujer executive director Maffei said. “It also means freedom from domestic violence situations whether it’s being able to freely move or obtaining a copy of their police reports. More importantly, it means a safer and thriving community for Long Island and New York state.”

The march which will begin at 573 Roanoke Avenue tomorrow at 12 noon and proceed to the Riverhead DMV office on Old Country Road.

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria