New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Monday night granting illegal immigrants the right to obtain driver’s licenses, shortly after the legislation narrowly passed the state Senate.
The bill, which passed the state Senate 33-29, divided moderate, suburban Democrats, concerned about the safety implications of licensing illegal immigrants, from their more progressive counterparts.
Before signing the bill Monday evening, Cuomo threatened to veto the legislation out of concern that it might lead to the creation of a database of illegal immigrants that the federal government might use to enforce immigration law.
In response, attorney general Tish James released a statement assuring Cuomo and the public that the bill would not be used to help enforce immigration law.
“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,” she said.
New York now joins twelve other states and Washington, D.C. in allowing illegal immigrants to drive.
Immigration-rights activists praised the legislation as a step toward affirming the humanity of illegal immigrants.
“It’s been an 18-year struggle,” said Javier Valdés, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a prominent political advocacy group that works to expand the privileges afforded to immigrants regardless of their legal status. “The resilience of the immigrant community has shown through once again.”
New York Republicans, meanwhile, chastised their Democratic colleagues for advancing legislation that further erodes the distinction between citizens and non-citizens and incentivizes potential migrants to disregard federal law.
“If we give them every right they have, they will not be incentivized to go through the process of getting that greatest gift, to be a citizen,” said Republican senator James Tedisco of central New York.