Undocumented workers in NY win right to driver’s licenses

By Seth Galinsky
July 8, 2019

NEW YORK — After a long fight by supporters of the rights of immigrant workers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law June 17 that will allow over three-quarters of a million undocumented workers to apply for driver’s licenses here. It goes into effect in December.

For immigrants without papers recognized by Washington, being able to drive without risking huge fines, detention by cops for minor infractions or the threat of deportation is not a small question, especially in towns and rural areas where there is little or no public transport.

Having a driver’s license will be a boost to farmworkers seeking to organize unions and fight for higher wages and better working conditions. Many have been dependent on farm bosses for everything, from shopping to seeing a doctor.

The law allows New York residents to use a foreign passport or driver’s license or a consular ID to apply for a “standard” license that has stamped on it “not for federal use.” The license cannot be used to sign up to vote or to get on an airplane.

Over the last year supporters of the fight for licenses for all organized dozens of meetings and marches that showed the growing support from working people.

They obtained the endorsement of some capitalist business interests, who hope that availability of licenses will help ease a serious labor shortage, especially in the region’s dairies and fields.

“A lot of my friends and relatives are really happy,” Jorge Marca said by phone from Lindenhurst, Long Island. This reporter met Marca when we both joined a protest in Riverhead in March. “Many are saving up to buy a car and studying to take the driver’s test. Some hope they can take the CDL test to drive semis, like they did in Ecuador.”

While the law passed by a wide margin in the state Assembly, it squeaked by in the Senate with 33 in favor and 29 against. Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns — who processes driver’s licenses there — told the press he will refuse to carry out the law and plans to file a legal challenge. A few others have followed suit.

“Now is a good time to step up the fight for amnesty for the more than 11 million immigrants without papers in the U.S. and to reach out and explain the stakes for all workers, foreign- and U.S.-born,” said Ved Dookhun, Socialist Workers Party candidate of mayor of Troy. “That will strengthen the unity of the working class and put us in a better position to rebuild a fighting union movement.”

“Now it’s New Jersey’s turn,” said leaders of Cosecha, an immigrant group, as they organize a protest in Trenton June 27. With passage of the New York law, there are 13 states and the District of Columbia that allow undocumented immigrants licenses to drive.