Updated: May 1, 2022
BY T. E. MCMORROW
New York State driver’s licenses are in the process of undergoing major changes. Advocacy groups, along with State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, are hoping to include one more change: allowing undocumented residents to be able to obtain a basic license that will allow them to drive legally.
Thiele was one of six speakers at a panel at LTV studios April 24, where the topic was both the changes that are certain to come, along with the additional change the speakers were hoping for. The event was sponsored by the Organización Latino Americana of Eastern Long Island, along with Progressive East End Reformers, and other like-minded groups.
One of those on the panel was Sandra Gonzalez, a resident of East Hampton Town for the past 20 years.
During the first few years she was living in East Hampton, she would walk daily to her job as a nanny in Amagansett. But the realities of East End living, where meeting basic needs can mean traveling many miles, eventually forced her to start driving. She always made sure the car she was driving was insured, she told the audience, through a network of friends and family. But, she lived in constant fear of being arrested.
Now, she has legal status in the country, she said, as she proudly held up her driver’s license. But the years of living with uncertainty and fear took a toll on her and those she loves. “That is why I am here, to tell the importance of allowing us to obtain a driver’s license,” she said.
The new state driver’s licenses, which will be mandatory come October 2020, are in a triple-tiered system. An enhanced license, which will cost an extra $30, can be used to travel to Canada and Mexico, carrying the same weight in the federal identification system as a passport. Undocumented residents will not be eligible for those licenses.
Nor will they be eligible for what is called a REAL ID license, which can be used to board domestic flights, or enter federal facilities, such as courts and military bases.
It is the third tier of licenses that Thiele and OLA are hoping to open up to the undocumented community in New York.
That is called the standard license. It looks much the same as the other two, but, in the top right corner, the words “Not for Federal Purposes” appear. You cannot use them to board a flight, or for any federal ID purposes. The fee schedule for this license will be the same as the REAL ID license.
Thiele is co-sponsor of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, which would open the door to undocumented residents who can prove they live in New York State. Thiele stressed, as did the other speakers, including Minerva Perez, the executive director of OLA, that this is not a new approach to licensing. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, licenses were restricted, Thiele said, to prevent terrorists from obtaining them. “All I can say is, we are not terrorists,” Gonzalez said.
Sandra Dunn, who moderated the discussion, pointed to other states, such as New Mexico, where the enactment of a similar provision to their driver’s licensing process triggered a steep drop in the number of uninsured drivers on the road. “This will not cost the taxpayers anything,” Dunn said. In fact, she added, the measure would actually make money for the state, and would make the roads safer. “We want to be held accountable,” Gonzalez said.
The privacy part of the amendment would prevent officers from federal agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from accessing the Department of Motor Vehicles database without a court-issued warrant.
With 70 co-sponsors of the bill in the Assembly, Thiele is fairly confident that it will pass that house. It is passage in the State Senate that the panelists, who also included Dr. Gail Schoenfeld, a pediatrician in East Hampton, and Barbara Layton, an East Hampton business owner and activist, are concerned about.
Perez and Thiele urged supporters of the bill to contact state senators, particularly those on Long Island, and in the Lower Hudson Valley. “Those senators are the difference between victory and defeat,” Thiele said. He said that the legislature would resume business in Albany on Monday, April 29, with the session scheduled to conclude on June 19.
It is key, Perez said, for supporters of the bill to speak out, so that the amendment can pass both houses, and be placed on the governor’s desk to sign.
“It is extremely important not to get sucked into the vortex of division that many in public life are attempting to create with immigration,” Thiele said. “This is about public safety.”