Nearly three million undocumented immigrants could be granted amnesty if a controversial new bill is approved by the state Legislature and signed into law.
The New York is Home Act would allow illegal aliens living in the state to apply for professional licenses, serve on juries, vote in local and state elections, and apply for driver’s licenses if they can prove they’ve been living in New York for at least three years and have paid taxes to the state.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), although several other key Democratic lawmakers say they weren’t aware of it until the New York Post ran a story about it earlier this week. There is a companion bill in the state Assembly sponsored by Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn).
Several aspects of other pieces of legislation, like the DREAM Act, are included within the newly proposed bill. Such an all-or-nothing approach to immigration reform could potentially turn off some lawmakers and make the measure harder to pass than individual measures, like the driver’s licenses bill.
Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he takes issue with the fact that the bill would grant noncitizens the right to vote.
“Although I support the DREAM Act, I do not support many aspects of the New York is Home legislation such as allowing undocumented aliens the right to vote as well as other benefits reserved for American citizens,” Avella said.
For many officials, bills granting undocumented immigrants more specific rights must take priority over passing the New York is Home Act.
“As the sponsor of the New York DREAM Act, I am a firm supporter of expanding rights for all immigrants,” Assemblyman Fransisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) said in a prepared statement.
“My priority right now is making sure that the DREAM Act passes in 2015. The momentum behind the DREAM Act is building and almost all elected Democrats in the New York State Legislature now support it. Only once the DREAM Act is passed, can we begin to examine opportunities for additional rights expansions for New York’s immigrants through legislation such as the New York is Home bill.”
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) said he is unsure if he could support all aspects of the New York is Home Act although he recognizes the need for some immigration reform.
“In general, we do need to help support these undocumented immigrants, especially the children who were brought here,” Scarborough said.
“My focus is on enacting the DREAM Act through either the budget or legislative process,” said state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), prime sponsor of both the DREAM Act and the bill that would allow undocumented New Yorkers the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses.
“We came within two Senate votes of passing the DREAM Act a few months ago. The governor’s leadership and the support of editorial boards across the state have raised public awareness and understanding of the issue and generated the kind of momentum we’ll need come January to make the DREAM Act a reality in New York.”
Immigration rights groups Make the Road New York and the Center for Popular Democracy have come out in support of the bill.
“The bill really looks at the ways the state can take action to foster growth within immigrant communities,” Make the Road New York Lead Organizer Daniel Coates said. He argues that New York is home to many immigrants who contribute to the local economy and neighborhoods in a variety of ways and that the government should give back to them.
“Washington, DC has proven time and again that it’s incapable of any type of immigration action. States like New York with large immigrant populations need to step up and lead the national discussion,” Coates said.
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