Cheers of “Si se puede – Yes we can” echoed on the steps of City Hall Wednesday as City Council members and organizations urged the state to guarantee driver’s licenses for all, regardless of their immigration status.
The council passed a resolution Wednesday, declaring support for state legislation that would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to New Yorkers without requiring social security numbers and citizenship status.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-District 10), who sponsored the resolution, said he is prepared to make the state a better place for immigrants.
“I am an immigrant, born and raised in another country, but I also belong to the United States,” he said. “We are sending a message to the State of New York that 8.5 million New Yorkers are saying enough is enough.”
There are roughly 3.1 million immigrants in New York City, 560,000 of whom are immigrants who did not come to the United States legally, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi said the state has to make a decision regarding the lives of these individuals: “Are we going to support and protect immigrants or are we not?”
“The Trump administration has demonized immigrants, targeted immigrants, deported thousands of New York’s immigrants, ripped them away from their families,” he said. “The one thing we are hearing from our immigrant communities is that a driver’s license is the single biggest issue. It is the one thing that Albany can do, the one law that Albany can pass, that will protect immigrant New Yorkers.”
Many attending Wednesday’s rally said that a driver’s license is a human right, regardless of immigration status. Two supporters, Queens resident Jorge Ortiz, 67, and Bronx resident Jessica Ortiz, 42, who are not related, testified in support of the legislation.
Both Jessica and Jorge are U.S. citizens. Many of their friends, on the other hand, are not and have a difficult time caring for their families because they are unable to get driver’s licenses.
“It’s a necessity,” Jessica said. “We have a lot of undocumented people here that work very far. Some places are not easily reached by public transportation. Sometimes you get off the train and you have to walk 20 minutes to get to a certain building.”
Immigrants own 52 percent of the city’s businesses and contribute nearly $200 billion to the city’s gross domestic product, according to the Office of Immigrant Affairs. Just over 77 percent of the undocumented population is actively in the labor force.
During his testimony, Jorge told the Committee on Immigration that making driver’s licenses available to all New Yorkers, regardless of citizenship status, will only make the city and state stronger. Without a license, individuals are not able to purchase cars that allow them to better provide for their communities.
“It will make our roads safer, strengthen our state economy, promote community trust and it will give immigrants access to the vital identification needed to participate in everyday life,” Jorge testified. “Immigrants with access to driver’s licenses are more likely to have good jobs that support strong communities.”
The driver’s license bills were introduced in the State Legislature in January and are now in the hands of the Assembly and Senate transportation committees.