‘Undocumented:’ Bill gives green light for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses
A law set to take effect next month in New York will allow a quarter of a million immigrants the right to obtain a driver's license.
Doris Sorto Hernandez, a Salvadoran national living in Port Chester, says she currently can't get a license because she is living in the country illegally.
"I'm scared, if the police pull me over they could detain me," she says.
Vanessa Agudelo, the Hudson Valley manager of member engagement for the New York Immigration Coalition, says driving without a driver's license in the state is the No. 1 way to pipeline someone into deportation proceedings.
If Hernandez does get detained, it would mean leaving behind Shaun, her 6-year-old son who has spina bifida, a debilitating birth defect that requires around-the-clock care.
Hernandez says she has to change her son's catheter four times a day and give him two medicines every day. She says his condition also makes getting from place to place much more difficult.
"I have to figure out who will take me or will I have to pay for a taxi, and it's expensive," she says.
Hernandez says that's one reason she has been an outspoken advocate for the Green Light bill set to go into effect in December.
"It's preventing hardworking people from going to work, from taking their kids to school to go to doctors' appointments," says Ramiro Rincon, program director at Neighbors Link.
Advocates say the legislation will make the roads safer by reducing the number of uninsured drivers and will also boost the state's economy with millions coming in for license fees.
The Democratic-controlled state Assembly and Senate passed the bill over the summer, but not everyone believes giving the green light is the right move.
Assemblyman Colin Schmitt says he voted no to the Green Light legislation.
"A majority of my district opposed the legislation. I actually received zero correspondence in support of the legislation," he says.
The freshman Republican state lawmaker says he questions how the new law will be implemented, citing that county clerks will now have to be able to verify foreign documents.
"We are asking employees with no experience on the matter to wade into documents that they have no ability to verify," he says.
Schmitt says that the bill is having national and international impacts.
He traveled to the Texas-Mexico border over the summer, where he says he learned that laws passed to protect immigrants in New York are creating pull factors - a term used by Border Patrol agents to describe how actions and rhetoric cause surges in illegal immigration.
"The Green Light legislation and the free college legislation had a direct impact on the surge on the crossings on our border and individuals requesting to go to New York state," he says.
While Schmitt disagrees with the new law, others are challenging it.
Last Friday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prevent the state from implementing the program.
When the Green Light law goes into effect next month, New York will become the 13th state in the country to enact a law allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses.