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Know Your Rights
Source: Legislative Gazette
Subject: Strategic Policy Advocacy
Type: Media Coverage

Despite budget setback, immigrants still pushing for drivers licenses, DREAM Act

Make the Road New York, an organization of 22,000 that advocates for the rights of immigrants, say they are “deeply disappointed” by the state budget they say fails undocumented New Yorkers.

“Make the Road is committed to continue organizing and fighting through the end of the legislative session to make sure issues like the NY Dream Act, affordable housing, immigrant health care, and criminal justice reform and other issues that our community desperately needs get passed,” said the organization’s Co-Executive Director, Javier Valdés.

With the budget finalized and little progress made on immigrant rights such as the DREAM Act and driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers, advocates are continuing to fight for progression.

“In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised bold reforms in his budget to protect and expand opportunities for immigrant communities and working-class communities of color,” said Valdés and Co-Director Deborah Axt in a joint statement. “Now, three months later, our communities are faced with a dismal budget that fails to meet our needs or expand protections for our communities.”

One priority was to expand the New York Tuition Assistance Program to provide some financial aid for undocumented students sponsored by Sen. José Peralta, D-Queens, Councilman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, and 96 co-sponsors (S.471-b/A.09605).

The New York DREAM Act would allow undocumented students who meet the criteria to apply for state financial aid that is currently available to others, such as TAP. This bill, supporters say, is a critical pathway to provide tuition equity and equal opportunity to undocumented youth in New York.

According to Peralta, of the more than 4,500 undocumented New Yorkers who graduate from a high school in the state every year, less than 10 percent attend college because of economic hurdles.

“Making the dream a reality will cost the average taxpayer 87 cents, not even a dollar,” said Peralta. “This is an investment, since the average college graduate pays every year about $4,000 more in state taxes than New Yorkers without a college degree.”

On Feb. 5, 2018 the bill passed the Assembly, was delivered to the Senate and referred to the Higher Education Committee.

Along with the DREAM Act, Make the Road New York is pushing for legislation that would allow undocumented New Yorkers to acquire driver’s licenses.

New York does not currently issue drivers licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. Immigrant rights advocates say this puts many people who must drive to get to work, drop kids at school, or get to a doctor’s office, at risk of traffic stops that can lead to arrest and deportation.

Several lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would provide some form of limited driver’s license for undocumented New Yorkers.

One bill, sponsored by Moya with seven co-sponsors (A.4050), would allow the commissioner of Motor Vehicles to offer limited purpose driver’s licenses to applicants, regardless of immigration status. It would also generate millions in revenue for all levels of government in New York state, lower insurance premiums for drivers and drive auto-sales.

Another bill sponsored by Peralta, Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda, D-Bronx, and 15 co-sponsors (S.338/A.2477), would allow individuals who cannot provide documentation necessary to obtain a standard driver’s license the chance to earn a limited purpose driver’s license.

The Greenlight NY Bill (A.10273), sponsored by Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx, would also allow immigrants to drive legally, open bank accounts for financial security, and feel more secure reporting crimes to law enforcement who ask for identification.’

On April 18, a rally was held for the Ready, Set, Greenlight Campaign For Driver’s Licenses For All New Yorkers in Albany.

Those in attendance included the New York Immigration Coalition, Justice for Migrant Families WNY, Worker Justice Center of NY, Workers Center of Central NY, Community Voices Heard, Make the Road NY, Nobody Leaves Mid Hudson, Crespo, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes Assemblyman Ron Kim, and others.

The economic benefits of the bill were discussed at the rally, including a projected $57 million per year for the state, just from license and registration fees alone.

Natasha Smith shared her story of the daily struggles she faces each day as she tries to function as a a single mother in New York without a drivers license.

“I pay rent, bills and I have never hurt anyone or committed a crime,” Smith said in Spanish. “I have been in this country for 25 years; what is the next step for me so that I can get a license?”

Rally attendees chanted “Si se puede” and “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido” which translates to “yes we can” and “the people united, we will never be defeated” as they called upon the state Legislature to pass the bill.

“New York must finally pass the DREAM Act to make sure that we can have all the future that we deserve in this beautiful state we call home,” said Reyna Andreu, a Make the Road New York member from Long Island. “And Long Islanders like me need access to driver’s licenses to be able to take our children to school and get to work.”

Valdés is confident that Make the Road New York will not back down and will persevere in the fight for the expansion of rights for immigrants.

Assistant Editor Melanie Zerah contributed to the reporting of this piece.