Cuomo OKs NY driver licenses for illegal immigrants

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the green light to the so-called "Green Light Bill." The controversial legislation allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses in New York.

The governor’s decision to sign the bill into law came despite an earlier curveball Cuomo threw supporters when he raised concerns that the bill could have unintended consequences.

“Is that law legal in prohibiting the federal government from accessing the database, and actually using the data to target undocumented people?” Cuomo said Monday.

But Attorney General Latisha James later released a statement saying, "The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver's licenses."

Cuomo signed the legislation Monday night, shortly after it passed the State Senate by a thin margin of 33-29.

Advocates say it will improve public safety, making sure everyone on the road has some level of insurance and training. They also say it will lead to more revenue for the state as undocumented immigrants, many of whom are already driving, pay driver license fees.

Opponents worry it will lead to illegal voting and disincentivized legal immigration.

“If you give those people who come through the process illegally the rights, the freedoms and the privileges of becoming a citizen... those people waiting in line to become a citizen, when they see that happening, they’re going to say to themselves, why should I go through that process?” Sen. Jim Tedisco said.

Passage of the bill was a major victory for immigrants and immigrant advocacy groups. Scores of immigrants gathered at the state Capitol to witness Monday's vote.

Driver licenses would be "a game changer," according to Jorge Garcia, an immigrant from Long Island who said he needs a car to get to his job in a warehouse. He has two children, both of whom are legal residents, and worries about being deported if he is caught driving without a license.

"This means so much to us, to my family," he said through an interpreter. "We won't have that fear of facing a judge if you get a ticket."

New York is now the 13th state to authorize driver licenses for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally.  The law goes into effect 180 days from Monday.

With the Associated Press.