Undocumented immigrants in New York could become “state citizens” with a slew of benefits from driver’s licenses under a new bill to be introduced Monday.
Advocates are set to announce a bill that would allow immigrants who aren’t U.S. citizens to become New York state citizens if they can prove they’ve lived and paid taxes in the state for three years and pledge to uphold New York laws, regardless of whether they’re in the country legally.
“The path to achieving opportunity and equity and dignity for immigrants through Washington seems blocked by Washington’s general dysfunction,” said Andrew Friedman, executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy and a founder of Make the Road New York. “States should push for full equality and inclusion.”
The bill will face long odds in Albany, where even more modest immigration reforms have failed to get through the legislature.
The bill would apply to about 2.7 million New Yorkers who lack citizenship, including those in the country legally and illegally.
People who secured state citizenship under the bill would be able to vote in state and local elections, and run for state office.
They could get a driver’s license, a professional license issued by the state, and Medicaid and other benefits controlled by the state.
Immigrants would also be eligible for in-state tuition and financial aid, and would be protected from discrimination based on their status. And the bill would sharply limit state authorities’ cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
The legislation would not grant legal authorization to work or change any other regulations governed by federal law.
It’s destined to be a longshot in Albany, where the DREAM Act, which would help undocumented students afford college, and efforts to offer driver’s licenses have failed so far.
But backers say it will prompt similar efforts in other states, similar to how states led the way on gay marriage, with talks on bills already underway in Illinois, Oregon, and Maryland.
“Obviously this is not something that’s going to pass immediately, but nothing as broad as this or as bold as this passes immediately,” said Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), the sponsor in the Senate.
The bill is estimated to cost taxpayers $106 to 173 million a year, while generating $145 million in new economic activity and saving drivers $100 million in insurance premiums, advocates say.