The most critical proof of identification is a valid social security number, a standard that was simply too high for the illegal and undocumented.
Under the new rules to be phased in from the end of November, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will accept a valid overseas passport for license renewals and first time applications without any additional documentation showing that the individual is legally resident.
The new policy will begin to take effect in November for license renewals and December for new applications.
Spitzer’s license move was hailed by Irish immigrant support groups and those campaigning for comprehensive immigration reform.
“We’re ecstatic. Now we are hoping that Governor Spitzer holds firm on this,” Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York City, told the Echo.
Dennehy’s expression of hope was based on the fact that Spitzer’s decision is a hugely controversial one that is already drawing fire from critics who say that giving driving license to illegal and undocumented immigrants poses too great a security risk.
“We at Emerald Isle Immigration Center have been advocating for a change on this policy for the past few years. One of the most-frequently asked questions we field these days is if anything has changed regarding the ability to drive in New York State. Thankfully, today the answer is yes,” Dennehy said separately in a statement.
Dennehy said that she along with Ciaran McDonnell, Emerald Isle’s Bronx-based immigration counselor and others, she had traveled to Albany on February 13 of this year to support the New York Immigration Coalition’s Empire State Day to advocate for a change I the license rules.
“We felt very strongly that we needed to be there, representing the Irish undocumented in New York and it certainly feels that the message was received,” said Dennehy.
“To that end,” Dennehy said, “if you were not able to join us in February, we really need you to add your voice to those supporting this policy now and contact the governor’s office and congratulate him for this decision loudly and clearly. “Those with anti-immigrant sentiment may try and spin this issue, but we see it as a win-win as drivers will be able to come forward, apply for or renew a driver’s license, insure and register their vehicles without fear and regardless of their immigration status.
“The Emerald Isle Immigration Center is very grateful to the governor for this courageous stance and in introducing the policy. We will do everything we can to support it. We will be including all the information we get as we receive it, in our upcoming public immigration meetings and encourage anyone with specific questions to contact us,” Dennehy said.
She added that Individuals who previously held New York State drivers’ licenses should update their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles if it has changed in order to receive an invitation letter to renew their license starting in November.
In its reaction to Spitzer’s announcement, the Irish lobby for Immigration Reform said that undocumented Irish immigrants “were thrilled” by the news.
“Governor Spitzer’s initiative is a huge step forward for our community as it signals that common sense can prevail in the immigration issue,” said ILIR executive director Kelly Fincham.
Fincham urged ILIR volunteers to contact Spitzer’s office to congratulate him on what she described as “his brave stance.”
Spitzer, in announcing the reversal of rules that applied during his predecessor George Pataki’s administration, described the change as a common sense one.
“After a comprehensive review, DMV has developed changes that will increase the security of our license system by obtaining better and more verifiable information from applicants, which will decrease the number of uninsured drivers on the roads, lower auto insurance rates for all drivers and, when necessary help law enforcement agencies in their investigations,” Spitzer said.
The new rules will come into force in two phases. According to Spitzer’s office, phase one will begin immediately.
Informational letters from DMV will be sent to the approximately 152,000 New Yorkers, who at one point had (or currently have) a New York State license, but are unable to renew it because of the previous administrative policy.
DMV will notify these former and current license holders of the policy change and will begin the re-licensing process at the end of 2007. Those affected will still need to prove their identity, date of birth and fitness to drive before being issued a new license.
Phase two will begin six to eight months after phase one and will open the application process to all New Yorkers.
The time period between phases, according to Spitzer’s office, will allow the DMV to make the necessary infrastructure and staffing improvements to accommodate the expected increase in customer volume while maintaining the highest level of customer service and anti-fraud security.