Hundreds rush to DMV offices for licenses after ‘Green Light Law’ enacted

Hundreds of undocumented immigrants line up outside the DMV in Whitestone to apply for a license. (Courtesy Make the Road NY)


The usually-crowded Department of Motor Vehicles offices across the city were even more packed Monday with license-seekers after the state’s Green Light Law — which allows undocumented residents to obtain Empire State driver’s licenses — took effect.

The law allows New Yorkers aged 16 or older to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of their citizenship status, by not requiring a Social Security Number.

Hundreds of Brooklynites waited in hours-long lines at the Atlantic Center DMV branch on Monday after a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses took effect over the weekend.

“This is a good move and I thank the high powers, I thank them very much for what they are doing for us,” said an undocumented Brooklynite who only gave her name as Barb T.

Lines snaked outside the DMV offices at the Atlantic Center Mall’s second floor on Monday as Kings County drivers-to-be gathered to be among the first undocumented people to receive their legal driving permit — with some eager immigrants lining up before the auto bureau’s doors opened at 8:30 am.

Barb — a Sheepshead Bay resident who moved to the U.S. from Jamaica — said she was delighted to hear the news that the law would officially take effect, and immediately called friends of hers who are also without a legal status.

“Oh man, I screamed last night and called my friends,’” she said.

Hundreds of Brooklynites wait on line at the Department of Motor Vehicles at Atlantic Center Mall in Fort Greene on Dec. 16. (Photo by Kevin Duggan)

The same was true in Queens at the DMV office in Whitestone, where immigrants were chanting “Si se pudo!” (We did it) and “Licencias para todos!” (Licenses for all) as they awaited their opportunity.

“What an incredible feeling it will be to finally have a license,” Make the Road New York member Fausto Jiminez said. “This will mean I can drive my family where we want to go, with the peace of mind that I won’t be stopped and torn away from the people I love.”

Experts have found that the Green Light Law will bring substantial economic benefits to the state including $57 million in annual revenue. New York has joined twelve states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, which have similar policies in place.

State Attorney General Letitia James won two lawsuits filed by upstate county clerks, who tried to block implementation of the law.

The looser requirements marks a return to pre-2001 standards, when non-citizens were permitted driver’s licenses — until then-Governor George Pataki issued an executive order directing the state to require a Social Security Number, citing public safety concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A spokeswoman for the Department said that the agency added extra staff and resources to handle the larger caseload, and several staffers helped applicants on line by making sure they had all the necessary documents on them.

“We are experiencing larger crowds today – and in preparation, the NYS DMV has added resources, like kiosks, to assist customers in the offices whose transactions can be completed online, updated our reservation system, adjusted staffing levels, and encouraged customers to use our website to prepare for their visit, which improves the wait times for everyone in the office,” said Lisa Koumjian.

Under the new standards — which took effect Saturday after months of legal challenges, and which already exists in 12 other states — applicants can receive a standard, non-federal license by providing proof of their identity with non-citizenship related documents, such as a foreign passport, foreign driver’s licenses or the municipal IDNYC card.

The permit will, however, be marked with “NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES,” and will not allow card holders to board domestic flights or enter some secure federal buildings — such as military bases — for which a so-called “REAL ID” is necessary.

AMNY Newsletter

Eat it. Drink it. Do it. Tackle the city, with our help.