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Know Your Rights
Source: Staten Island Advance
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Undocumented Immigrants Deserve Driver’s Licenses

As a single father, there’s nothing more important to me than my daughter’s well-being. When she’s sick or has a problem at school, I need to be able to get to her quickly. But for years, my inability to obtain a driver’s license has stood in the way. Because of my immigration status, New York’s current policy has prevented me from being the father I want and need to be.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant parents across New York face the same challenge, and it is why we’re calling for the state legislature to restore access to driver’s licenses now.

I’ve lived in Staten Island for the past 14 years, and I’m a father to 12-year-old girl. My daughter depends on me to be able to put food on the table, take her to school and take care of her when she gets sick. One time, I received a phone call from my daughter’s school. It was the school nurse telling me I needed to pick up my daughter from school and take her to the doctor because she was not well.

Any parent can relate to the anguish I felt having received such a call and wanting to get to my child as soon as possible. Since I do not have a car, because I cannot access to a driver’s license, I asked a friend to lend me his car to pick up my daughter from school and take her to the hospital. Public transportation on Staten Island is unreliable and it would have taken me too long to get from work to my daughter’s school and to the hospital. Taking a taxi would have been too expensive, given my limited income, especially since I was going to lose half of my work day.

On my way to the hospital after I’d picked up my daughter, we were stopped by a police officer. I was terrified. My daughter was sick in the back seat and now I could possibly be detained and separated from her for driving without a license. I got lucky that day — the cop, seeing my daughter in the back, let me go so I could take her to the hospital. But he warned me that otherwise he would’ve arrested me. I was terrified. No parent should experience that fear just for doing everything you can for your children. All parents, and all New Yorkers who are qualified to drive, regardless of immigration status, should have access to a driver’s license.

Passing this policy wouldn’t just be good for parents like me — the public safety of our entire state will benefit too. All New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, will have to access the same process as others to obtain a driver’s license. That means, I will submit a driver’s license application, take a driver’s education course, and pass a road test before obtaining a license.

Furthermore, our state is expected to gain millions if the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act becomes law. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that New York will earn $57 million in annual revenue, and $26 million in one-time revenue, plus insurance premiums will go down for all New York drivers.

Immigrant New Yorkers have waited too long for the restoration of access to driver’s licenses, which we had before 2001. As we get closer to the end of this legislative session, the New York State legislature and all the elected officials who support immigrant New Yorkers must make the last push to protect our families, boost our economy and improve public safety this year.

(David Vergara is a member of Make the Road New York, a grassroots community organization in New York offering services to the immigrant community.)