With just four remaining days in the state legislative session, sponsors of a new bill to grant citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants said they hope to begin building momentum for next session.
“First of all, this is obviously not something that is going to pass by the end of this week,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, at a press conference in Battery Park City. “This was never about this particular legislative session. We’ve been working on it for almost two years, it’s a bold idea and we wanted to make sure it was thought out.”
The bill, titled the New York is Home Act, would make it legal for undocumented immigrants in New York State to vote in local and state elections, get professional and drivers’ licenses, and make them eligible for state-funded Medicaid and financial aid for higher education.
“What we’re doing today is we’re starting a conversation not only in New York, but hopefully across the country,” said Rivera, who was joined at the press conference by representatives from the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York.
Senator Rivera said he was choosing this moment to introduce the bill, despite nearing the end of the legislative session, partly because of a lack of movement in Washington on immigration reform. He pointed to the defeat last week of Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor by a Tea Party candidate who criticized Cantor’s support for limited immigration reform.
But some progressives have also balked at provisions in the proposed bill. Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for municipal ID cards for undocumented immigrants, but said last year he’s “not comfortable” with the idea of noncitizen voting.
“We are certainly asking for everyone in the Senate and the Assembly as well as in other sectors—the mayor and the governor—to support it, and we will have conversations with them going forward,” Rivera said. “We are just starting the conversation.”
Assembly Member Karim Camara, the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, said the broad scope of the bill could help other stalled measures, like the Dream Act and a bill to allow undocumented immigrants access to drivers’ licenses.
“We’re hoping that by looking at this big picture, and this is probably one of the most ambitious efforts over at least the last decade or two, maybe those smaller pieces now seem like they’re not that big of a deal,” said Camara.
Camara said he hoped the bill would create momentum for other immigration reform initiatives by the start of the next legislative session.
“We didn’t break it into priorities in this bill, but we’re hoping that by looking at this overarching bill it’ll perhaps make those other smaller bills easier—drivers’ license, Dream Act, et cetera,” he said.
Camara blamed the balance of power in the Senate for those bills being unsuccessful in the past, and said if that was to change there may be more hope for immigration reform on a state level.
“The Republican-led Senate has been a main challenge,” he said. “We would have passed it this year if it was not for that. So of course there is that elephant in the room, that political dynamic that we can’t avoid, and if that’s not the case then we’ll appeal to individuals’ reason.”