Driver’s licenses for Dreamers

Young undocumented New Yorkers who benefit from President Obama’s deferred deportation program should be able to obtain driver’s licenses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature must recognize their new legal immigration status and open those doors.

A bill introduced last month by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly member Francisco Moya would expand state education benefits to immigrants who obtain Deferred Action, Obama’s program to defer deportations and issue temporary work permits to eligible undocumented youths.

The bill is a big step forward and Albany must approve it. The legislators must now ensure that these young people have access to driver’s licenses.

New York used to allow non-resident immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the state expanded the requirements to include proof of legal residence. This left thousands of breadwinners and people who live in areas where car are the only way to get around with the only option of driving without license and insurance.

Since then, the issue has been hotly debated in New York. An effort to resume the benefit, in 2007, proved extremely tough for then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. He achieved the change and then dropped it when Republicans with some Democrats unrelentingly attacked it. In a post 9/11 world dominated by security fears, all immigrants and anything they could access unfairly became a threat.

The Deferred Action is a game-changer. It is an opportunity to revisit this important issue. The program eliminates the main argument opponents have: they can no longer use the illegal status of these young adults to justify not issuing them driver’s licenses.

Although many lawmakers informally recognize the merits of this proposal, no one is formally addressing it.

Albany must recognize this immigration change, reevaluate proposals and allow the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to accept applications for driver’s licenses from Deferred Action immigrants.

There already is a model to follow. California recently approved legislation to ensure youths covered by Deferred Action can apply for driver’s licenses.

For the sake of its families and economy, New York must be on the right side of this issue. State leaders must take the bull by the horns and give these youths all the resources they need to get ahead and have safe, productive lives.