When state lawmakers return next Monday to the state Capitol, a debate over extending access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants will heat up.
Republican elected officials, flanked by law enforcement on Wednesday at the Rensselaer County DMV, blasted the proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive driver’s licenses.
“Why should any immigrant from any nation go through the arduous process, the process my grandparents went through, of becoming a legal citizen of the United States if they can attain the legal benefits of being a citizen without doing so?” said Sen. Daphne Jordan, a Republican who represents a suburban Albany district.
But at the event, a counter demonstration of supporters for the legislation appeared, interrupting with songs and pushing back against claims made by the officials. At one point, the demonstrators sang “This Land Is Your Land.”
“I may just get a banner put across the front of the building that we will have ICE on speed dial so if I deem you’re here illegally,” said Frank Merola, the Rensselaer County clerk.
If approved, New York would be among 13 states that allow undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses. Supporters argue that would reduce insurance costs and boost revenue for the state.
“We have a number of commitments from individuals in both the Assembly and Senate to vote yes on this legislation,” said Bryan MacCormack, the executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuaty Movement. “Just because they have not co-sponsored it, we do not believe that commitment is any less valid. So we do believe we have the support and we are eager to bring this to the floor for a vote.”
The issue for the last decade has simmered after then-Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed driver’s licenses access to undocumented immigrants, only to pull the idea amid opposition.
Among those Democrats on the fence is Assemblyman John McDonald.
“States are having this discussion because of failed federal policies, Republican and Democrat,” McDonald said. “It’s not one party versus the other.”
McDonald’s office this month launched a survey to determine where his constituents stand on the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“This Green Light Bill came out of nowhere. And that’s one of the main reasons why we said let’s put the survey out there, because it’s really hard to tell where the sentiment is of the public that I represent,” McDonald said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign the bill if approved.