Op-Ed: A second chance to drive change

Last month, Colorado lawmakers approved a measure to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Soon, the Centennial State will be the fourth in the union to approve such legislation.

New York should become the fifth. Before this legislative session ends on June 20, Albany should pass a law enabling undocumented immigrants to secure a license.

For our city, home to more than half a million undocumented immigrants, this reform can’t wait any longer. We can’t take Comprehensive Immigration Reform in Washington as a given—it’s up to us, here in New York, to fight for our neighbors’ right to fuller participation in our society.

First, let’s acknowledge reality: undocumented residents are already behind the wheel. Ensuring everyone on the road has a license is in the interest of every driver. Issuing licenses would ensure that more drivers pass a driver’s test—and that will keep everyone on the road safer.

Bear in mind, if you pay a car insurance premium, you’re already paying to cover uninsured drivers—including undocumented immigrants who can’t get a license. Allowing undocumented residents to secure a license increases their odds of getting insured, driving down everyone’s insurance rates.

And it means a lower likelihood that your next fender-bender or car crash will be with an uninsured driver. It’s a win for taxpayers, too. State coffers could certainly benefit from additional revenue in the form of registration fees and wheel taxes—dollars we currently forfeit.

But, most importantly, such a move would further bring hundreds of thousands of people currently living in the shadows into mainstream society.

Without a license, entire families are trapped in limbo. The lack of ID can shut the doors to doctor’s offices, banks, charities—virtually any service you can think of. We can’t keep cutting out such a huge swath of our city out of civic life.

This country is finally waking up to the notion that integrating undocumented immigrants into our society and legalizing their status will make us more secure. The old argument that providing a photo ID will compromise national security is absurd—if anything, the various checks required to get a license and the ability to identify people who currently lack a government-issued ID will increase our collective security.

As Washington continues to debate immigration reform, this would be a real first step for undocumented people in New York State on a pathway to, if not citizenship, then deeper membership in our civil society. As people who already contribute to our city and country through their labor and taxes, they deserve fuller recognition.

This is a movement New York City should lead, both on our own and up in Albany. I’ll be working with advocates for our immigrant communities to pass state legislation, and I have put forward City Council legislation authorizing our own City ID program.

This issue has been treated as a political football long enough. This time, compassion and common sense must win out.

Bill de Blasio is New York City Public Advocate.

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