The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced late on June 17 that Cuomo signed a bill granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
The Democratic-controlled state Senate passed the measure hours prior to Cuomo’s approval, according to the New York Post. The measure advanced by a 33–29 vote, with several Republicans and Democrats breaking party lines. The state’s lower house approved the bill a week earlier.
“We are treating the people who have broken our law, who are criminals, [like law-abiding citizens]. This legislation will lead to more illegal immigration,” Republican state Sen. Thomas O’Mara said as he voted against the law, according to the Post.
Prior to signing the bill, Cuomo, a Democrat, handed it for review to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood to ensure that the identities of illegal aliens are protected from detection by federal immigration authorities.
“You could create a database for the feds to use to actually track down undocumented people,” Cuomo said on WAMC radio.
Underwood’s boss, Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat, released a statement saying the bill is legally sound.
“The legislation is well-crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses. If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it,” James said, according to the Post.
Cuomo’s move was largely symbolic. The governor has supported the proposal for years.
“Governor Cuomo has supported this policy for over a decade. The key to this bill is not the political intent but the legal effect. We hope the attorney general’s assessment is correct for the safety of the thousands of undocumented individuals who are relying on her legal opinion,” Alphonso David, the counsel to the governor, said in a statement.
The law becomes effective in 180 days, meaning illegal aliens can begin applying for driver licenses in December.
A recent Siena poll showed that 53 percent of the voters statewide opposed the law, while 41 percent showed support for it.
Six Democrats from competitive districts in Long Island opposed the measure, fearing backlash from a district dealing with the violent MS-13 gang.
According to a study (pdf) by the Pew Research Center, there were an estimated 750,000 illegal aliens in New York state as of 2012.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia already grant drivers licenses to illegal aliens, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
California, the home to the largest number of illegal aliens in the United States, enacted the law in 2013. More than 1 million illegal aliens have received driver’s licenses there since the law took effect in 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Democrats supporting the measure argue that illegal aliens learn to drive, and get tested and insured as a result, adding to overall road safety for all. Republicans argue that the move legitimizes illegal immigration and may allow illegal aliens to register to vote.
“The NYS Legislature and Gov. Cuomo were absolutely wrong to create a new law this evening to give driver’s licenses to people illegally in our country. This decision is incredibly irresponsible,” U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter.