Driver’s Licenses for All

There is scarcely any aspect of the South Fork economy that does not rely on immigrant workers to some degree. People from the Americas, the Caribbean, former Soviet states, and parts of Europe, among others, keep this place humming. Foreign-born hands help build the houses, make the food, take care of our elderly, write novels, create art, teach children, pay taxes, turn down the beds in the hotel rooms. In short, they are us but for place of origin, and paperwork. 

East Hampton Town and Village officials and police have said they do not want a role in any anti-immigrant dragnet envisioned by President Trump. But because of routine police practices, they could be drawn in nevertheless. On a daily basis across New York State, officers pull over drivers who are then often arrested because they do not have licenses. Increasingly in the Trump era, this common event could be a first step toward deportation and devastating impacts on families as well as businesses.

Many police officers we have talked to over recent months favor driver licensing for residents regardless of their immigration status. For undocumented people who must drive to work, doing so now carries the increased risk of being sucked into an expanded federal system and eventually sent to their home countries. New York could fight back by extending licensing eligibility. 

Universal licensing would benefit our communities. It would mean driver’s education classes and eye tests, and that repeat offenders for speeding, drunken driving, or other offenses could be more easily be fined or jailed. And this would lead to safer roads. Granting licenses also would allow vehicle owners to obtain insurance, helping protect all of us in the event of a loss.

That millions of undocumented people drive even though their skills are not tested in the same way as legal resident drivers’ are is a dangerous situation. Already several states, including California, Colorado, and Illinois, offer licenses to anyone who can meet identification and residency requirements. New York should be among them.

In the absence of federal immigration reform that meets both the humanitarian needs of workers and the demands of business, New York should help by allowing immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. This would also reduce the risk of turning traffic enforcement officers into frontline troops in Mr. Trump’s war on our friends and neighbors from other countries, people who are here simply to work and better their lives.

Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya, a Queens Democrat, earlier this month introduced a bill in the New York Legislature that would make this possible. His measure would allow applicants for “limited purpose” licenses regardless of their legal status in the United States. The bill also proposes allowing nonresident driver’s licenses to serve as official identification, giving undocumented workers access to banks and other essential services. Supporters of bills like this say it would reduce insurance premiums statewide and bring in millions in new fees, among other benefits. Bottom line: Reducing the number of unlicensed drivers on New York’s roads is in everyone’s interest.