New York will become the 13th state to allow licenses for illegal immigrants after Democrat state Senators passed legislation Monday allowing illegal immigrants to gain access to driver's licenses in the state. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law later that evening.
Before the bill's passage, Republican state senators criticized the proposal as giving favor to criminals and creating an unsafe environment.
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The bill is "continuing this state's trend toward favoring criminals over law-abiding citizens," New York Republican state Senator Fred Askhur said during a floor debate surrounding the bill. Askhur also had suggested the bill could increase the potential for voter fraud in the state because New York does not have "voter identification laws like the majority of other states do."
Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan said it would be a "colossal political mistake," for Democrats to pass the bill. A collection of county clerks also voiced their opposition to the legislation as well as county sheriffs who suggested the law’s passage would limit their departments’ ability to enforce traffic laws.
National Republicans meanwhile have attempted to pressure freshmen Democratic representatives to weigh in on whether they support the policy of their state legislative counterparts.
Democrats regained control of the state Senate for the first time since 2008 in last year’s midterm elections and the new all-Democratic government has moved to pass a flurry of progressive bills such as expanding abortion rights and granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democrats’ new Senate majority, praised the passage of the bill.
"By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer," Stewart-Cousins said.
Immigrants "deserve to live a life without fear," Democrat Senator Luis Sepúlveda, the bill’s sponsor, said before it passed.
A few Democrats in the state Assembly and state Senate voted against its passage but it largely received the support of most Democrat state legislators.
The New York Times reported Governor Cuomo and state Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs warned a couple of Democrats, who represent suburban districts, that voting for the legislation could be "politically perilous," thus endangering the party’s new Democrat majorities in the upper chamber of the legislature.
The debate over granting illegal immigrants licenses has been playing out in the state over the past two decades as former Governor George Pataki instituted a policy only granting licenses to those who could provide a valid social security number. Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer, who would eventually resign after a sex scandal, moved to undo the rule by executive order but opted not too after backlash from high profile New York Democrats such as then-Senator Hillary Clinton and then-Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand.
The law will officially go into effect in 180 days meaning undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for driver’s licenses before the end of the year.