Hundreds of people could be seen braving the winter cold as they queued up outside Department of Motor Vehicle offices in New York on Monday to take advantage of a new law permitting undocumented migrants to get a driving license.
It was the first day the state began issuing driver’s licenses that don’t require applicants to prove they are in the country legally.
The new law, commonly known as the Green Light Law, was passed by legislators in June this year, before coming into effect on December 16.
It allows all of those aged 16 and older living in New York (the 13th state to do so) to apply for a license ‘regardless of their citizenship or lawful status’ in the United States.
Department of Motor Vehicles offices across New York State were full as many took advantage of the first day undocumented migrants were able to apply for a valid driving permit
License applicants without a valid Social Security number can now submit multiple alternative forms of ID that includes valid passports and driver’s licenses issued in foreign countries.
Applicants must still get a permit and pass a road test to qualify for a ‘standard driver’s license,’ which cannot be used for federal purposes like an enhanced driver’s license or Real ID.
State DMV officials said they adjusted staffing levels and updated their reservation system in anticipation of such large crowds Monday, though reports suggested many were swarmed as hundreds came to take advantage of the new law.
It is a move that has been celebrated by those advocating for the rights of undocumented migrants and the politicians who backed the law.
The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act is hoped to make day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, commuting, taking children to school and visiting a doctor, easier.
‘It’s about survival,’ Eva Gomez, 39, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who lives in Passaic, N.J told the New York Times.
Adriana Gonzalez, 26, of Toms River, N.J., told the outlet it would be hard to overstate how essential licenses will be for her undocumented parents’ lives. ‘It’s kind of life changing,’ Ms. Gonzalez said. ‘Driving is the most fearful part of our lives.’
Meanwhile state senator Luis Sepulveda said last week it was a great step towards equality.
‘This is a major step forward for all New Yorkers as we keep building New York to live up to its full potential of equity, opportunity, and justice,’ he said.
‘We also look forward to the significant economic and safety benefits the law will bring to communities across our state.’
But not all were willing to accept the change in legislation.
At least one county clerk in upstate New York opposed to the law was turning away applicants; albeit for logistical rather than political reasons, he said.
One man can be seen leaving a Department of Motor Vehicle office in New York. Not all officials were willing to allow those without a social security number to apply for a driving permit, with some citing lack of training to be able to properly identify foreign IDs as a reason
Rensselaer county clerk Frank Merola, one of several clerks who has sued to block New York’s law said his office had turned away an applicant who wanted a driver’s permit but lacked a social security number.
‘I was pretty adamant that I was going to have a tough time doing it out of my office,’ Merola said. ‘That might have discouraged people coming to my office.’
The Republican clerk said his office directed the applicant across the Hudson River to the state-run Department of Motor Vehicles offices in Albany.
Mr Merola and several other clerks have claimed their staff lack the training and equipment to verify foreign documents and properly comply with the law.
He said only three out of 17 of his employees have had time to watch a one-hour webinar provided by the DMV this month.
Meanwhile, Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has said any clerks who do not want to follow state law should resign.
‘Local officials, including county clerks who run DMV offices, cannot choose which laws they like and which they will disregard,’said DMV spokeswoman Lisa Koumjian. ‘If a clerk is unwilling to follow state law, he or she should resign their office.’
Mr Cuomo’s administration said they have provided county and state DMV staff with devices to authenticate documents, and provided hands-on-training when they installed devices.
People can be seen waiting inside a local New York DMV office on Monday. An estimated 265,000 immigrants without legal documents are expected to get driver’s licenses within three years – more than half of them in New York City
A spokeswoman said the state DMV also provided two training sessions, training materials and two online webinars.
An estimated 265,000 immigrants without legal documents are expected to get driver’s licenses within three years, more than half of them in New York City, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.
Meanwhile on the same day in neighboring New Jersey a similar law was approved that would see undocumented migrants there also be granted the right to apply for a license.