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In New York, Undocumented Immigrants Could Become Eligible for Driver’s Licenses Again

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(Photos: Spencer Platt & Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

New York state legislators are expected to vote in the coming weeks to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses amid growing calls from civil rights advocates across the nation to take action to prevent routine traffic stops from landing immigrants in deportation proceedings.

A bill introduced in the state Senate currently sits in committee and is expected to go before both houses of state congress and then to Governor Andrew Cuomo for a signature before the end of the current legislative session next month. There are an estimated 940,000 undocumented immigrants in the state, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. Of the immigrants with criminal charges detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement nationally in 2017, Pew Research found that the greatest plurality of the charges—24,438, or 17 percent of the total—were traffic violations.

Undocumented immigrants in New York were able to obtain driver’s licenses until 2001, when former Republican Governor George Pataki, citing national security threats, barred them from obtaining the identification by enacting an executive order requiring Social Security numbers or other proof of legal residency in order to obtain licenses. Pataki’s successor, Eliot Spitzer, attempted to reverse the decision but was beset by critics.

“In the state of New York, we all know undocumented immigrants are already driving,” says New York State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, a Democrat from a district in the Bronx borough of New York City who introduced the bill. “They don’t take the exam or the practical classes. You’re creating a situation where you’re making unsafe driving conditions throughout the state.”

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