Illegal immigrants can now obtain a driver’s license in New York.
The state senate voted to approve the measure and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law Monday night, The New York Times reported.
The bill has divided the state Democratic Party between more traditional voters and the progressive wing that has fought for the legislation. The Senate vote was close, with 33 voting in favor and 29 against. (RELATED: Over 1 Million Illegal Immigrants Have California Driver’s Licenses, DMV Announces)
Immigration activists carefully watched the proceedings and broke into applause when the bill passed, according to the Times.
“It’s been an 18-year struggle,” immigration rights activist Javier Valdés told the Times. “The resilience of the immigrant community has shown through once again.” That advocacy included spending at least $1 million to persuade New York lawmakers to embrace the driver’s license proposal. (RELATED: Gillibrand: Social Security, Pathway To Citizenship Should Be Rights For Immigrants)
But Cuomo is aware that many New Yorkers are opposed to allowing illegal immigrants to have a driver’s license and that there could be political ramifications for himself and the Democratic Party in the state. A recent poll found that 61 percent of those surveyed in the state opposed giving driver’s licenses to non-citizens.
“This bill is basically seen as a pro-immigrant bill,” he told WAMC radio, according to the Times. “So there’s no doubt that there’s a political downside.”
That downside might also affect federal politics, as the National Republican Congressional Committee targeted New York Democratic Reps. Max Rose, Antonio Delgado and Sean Patrick Maloney for saying nothing about the driver’s license bill.
County clerks responsible for providing state driver’s licenses are also objecting to the new law and at least one of them has said he won’t issue a driver’s license to an illegal alien.
Republicans, who all opposed the bill, said the legislation is another example of how government encourages illegal immigrants to break the law and the rules.
“If we give them every right they have, they will not be incentivized to go through the process of getting that greatest gift, to be a citizen,” Republican state Sen. James Tedisco said during Monday night’s debate. His colleague, Sen. Frederick J. Akshar, noted the legislation was “only continuing this state’s trend toward favoring criminals over law-abiding citizens.”