'Green Light NY' advocates rallied at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Hauppauge June 7. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

The State Assembly yesterday passed a bill that would allow the commissioner of motor vehicles to issue standard driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“The driver’s license access and privacy act,” also known as “Green Light NY” passed in a largely party-line vote, 86-47, following a lengthy and sometimes contentious debate.

The politically charged bill faces an uncertain fate in the State Senate, where, with only one week left in the current legislative session, it has not yet been scheduled for a vote.

Undocumented immigrants were able to obtain N.Y. driver’s licenses until a post-Sept. 11 executive order signed by then-governor George Pataki in 2001 required driver’s license applicants to prove legal residency in the United States. That executive order remains in place.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he supports the bill and will sign it into law if passed by the legislature.

An estimated 265,000 undocumented immigrants would be eligible to get a license, including 51,000 on Long Island, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

The legislation has garnered the support of dozens of organizations and agencies across the state, including labor organizations, faith leaders, agricultural organizations, worker’s unions, district attorneys, the New York Business Council, immigrant advocates, civil rights organizations and insurance associations.

But N.Y. voters oppose the idea 53% to 41%, according to a June 10 Siena College poll.

“This is a bill that is just common-sense public policy, a win-win for all New Yorkers,” statewide coordinator for the Green Light NY campaign Emma Kreyche said.

“It is a win for immigrant communities who will have less fear when they are out on the road, but also it is a win for all of us who are drivers in New York State: it reduces the rate of uninsured drivers, improves traffic safety and generates revenue for the state. There is no downside to this bill, and we have worked really hard to include all stakeholders, which is why we have widespread support across various sectors.”

“We have done a lot of work to engage law enforcement stakeholders. We are very confident that our bill allows law enforcement to do their job, ensuring that they are able to conduct their investigations as needed,” she said.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said in a statement to OLA of Eastern Long Island that “the East End Chiefs all agree that everyone who drives in NYS should have a valid driver’s license.”

He said while the chiefs had “reservations with the original draft of the Green Light legislation,” they are “optimistic that the revised draft addresses all of our concerns.”

Assemblymember Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) during debate on the floor June 12. (Video screenshot)

Second District Assemblymember Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) voted against the measure.

After the vote yesterday, he predicted that the “real dangers of this bill” will emerge over time.

“When we legitimize illegal immigration by rewarding individuals here illegally with driver’s licenses, we encourage it to continue. This bill not only encourages illegal immigration but goes directly against federal law and protects those who break it,” Palumbo said in a statement.

“Our state faces some of the highest taxes in the country, we are losing businesses and young people to more business-friendly states and this is what we have decided to focus on? We have less than two weeks left in this year’s legislative session; it is time we get back on track,” he said.

First District Assemblymember Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) was one of dozens of co-sponsors.

Democrats have a 39-22 edge in the State Senate, and while Democratic leadership supports the bill, it is not clear a majority of Democratic senators will fall in line. Long Island’s six Democratic senators have not committed to supporting the bill.

Republican senators, including First District Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the longest-serving member of the senate, oppose the bill.

“I was a member of a New York State Senate Task Force on Immigration and I have studied this issue at great length,” LaValle said yesterday.

“I remain steadfast in my position that granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is not good public policy, presents a clear threat to public safety and sends a wrong message to the law-abiding people I represent.”

Extensive lobbying efforts by a large coalition of local organizations, immigrant advocates, church leaders and private individuals have targeted Long Island Democratic senators, urging their support for the bill.

At a rally Friday at the DMV in Hauppauge, coalition members expressed their frustration with the Long Island Democrats, accusing them of “playing games.”

“Politicians think they have the power, but the power comes from the vote,” North Fork Spanish Apostolate executive director Sister Margaret Smyth said at the rally. “I just want to say to our senators and our politicians, that every one of us standing here is willing to help you rewrite your new resume when you’re looking for your next job, because if you do not stand with us, you’re being voted out.”

The legislative session is set to end June 19.

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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