All You Need To Know About the ‘Green Light Bill’

Photo: Doug Kerr | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

New York now belongs to the few states in the US allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain their driver’s license. On Monday night, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill. Last week, the Senate has approved the bill with 33 to 29 votes in favor. 

Sponsored by Senator Luis Sepulveda, aptly named Green Light bill aims to improve road safety for all New Yorkers. In 180 days, the law will go into effect, and immigrants may start applying for their licenses. 

Cheers erupted as the legislation passed after years of continuous lobbying. Efforts on the bill have stalled back in 2007. “By expanding access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, we are guaranteeing safer roads, stronger economies, increased revenue, and keeping families together,” says Sepulveda in a released statement over Twitter.

Advocate groups such as Green Light NY: Driving Together! Coalition and the New York Immigration Coalition rejoiced and thanked multiple senators in Twitter for their support.

Currently, 13 states allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, including California, Nevada, Washington, and Utah, to name a few. Aside from driver’s licenses, California is set to provide free healthcare to its undocumented residents.

To apply for a driver’s license, New York will no longer require proof of citizenship. Proof of identity and age is still needed. For undocumented immigrants, this means foreign IDs can be used to secure their own driver’s license.

The bill’s passing signifies a big win for immigrants.

Related: Immigrants on Depression

Benefits of the Green Light Bill

What does it mean to have a driver’s license? In New York, it means a lot. Public transportation has been a struggle in the Big Apple. One of the city’s main public transport — the subway system has been experiencing delays due to the increasing number of passengers. Aside from that, faulty infrastructures were also pinpointed as the cause for train schedule interruptions.

Access to better transportation, such as driving your car, would result in a worker’s improved time management. Simply put, workers won’t be late if they have other options aside from delayed trains.

The passage of the bill benefits not only immigrants who need alternative transportation solutions but the public, in general. New Yorkers will feel safer knowing that drivers on the road have undergone training and passed driving assessments. There is no more excuse for anyone to skip the classes and get their licenses.

New York’s economy may greatly benefit from this move, too. Immigrants will have more work opportunities previously limited by location. As immigrants get better jobs with higher salaries, they spend more money, pouring it all back into local businesses.

However, Green Light bill advocates shares that the benefits of this legislation go beyond transportation. Aside from access to transportation, opportunities to improve one’s quality of life will be available to undocumented immigrants.

Driver’s licenses are considered as a commonly-used ID. Take, for example, the simple act of opening a bank account. Most banks require specific IDs as proof of identity. Equipped with a driver’s license, undocumented immigrants will have easier access to banking opportunities, ranging from opening a bank account to getting a credit card.

Having a driver’s licenses opens up opportunities, such as being allowed to enter a building. Immigrants will have an easier time to indicate they are organ donors with the ID, too.

Concerns Raised 

It took years before the bill was passed into law. Various reasons contributed to the delay, such as lack of support or concerns related to possible abuse with the driver’s license privilege.

Just last week, Governor Cuomo raised concerns about the Green Light bill and its Data Privacy. Once he signs the bill into law, the Department of Motor Vehicles will have a database full of information of New York’s undocumented immigrants. Federal officials may acquire this database and use against the immigrants.

In response to the Cuomo’s concerns, New York Attorney General Letitia James ensured that safeguards were placed to prevent that. “The legislation is well-crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” said James in a statement.

Voter fraud is another issue that created delays of the bill’s passage. Others were thinking that having a driver’s license will make a non-resident to register to vote.

To which advocates answered that voter registration still requires each registrant to sign an affidavit declaring they are a citizen. If anyone caught illegally registering to vote, they could be penalized and jailed anytime. 

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