On Friday, September 21st, after four years of waging a grassroots campaign, immigrant people across New York state won a major victory- the right to drivers licenses regardless of immigration status!
This is a HUGE victory for millions of immigrants in New York state and has major significance nationally as New York State will set a positive example for states across the country waging the same fight. Over one million undocumented immigrant families across the state will be affected directly by this win to now be able to earn a living safely and have access to the only piece of identification for many immigrants which they need to access services, travel, and prevent arrest by police and immigration.
DRUM has waged the Drivers License for All campaign since October 2004 within the South Asian community and fought as part of the state-wide New York Coalition for Immigrants Rights to Drivers Licenses and Immigrant Communities in Action since then to win this significant victory. This has been a truly cross-community collaborative effort by so many groups we have had the pleasure to work with over the years including: Centro Hispano "Cuzcatlan", the NY Civic Participation Project, NICE, Queens Community House, Humanist Center of Cultures, Immigrant Communities in Action member groups, Immigrant Justice Solidarity Project, AALDEF, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Queers for Economic Justice, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, NY Immigration Coalition, the NY Civil Liberties Union, YKASEC, labor unions, legal organizations and others.
We are proud to share with you this great victory resulting from the hard work for over three years by all of these organizations, DRUM's membership of directly affected South Asian immigrant workers and youth, our staff, and many of you who have volunteered with DRUM, marched and supported us on this struggle over the years!
DRUM launched our Drivers Licenses campaign in October 2004 after our member, Shilpi- a Bangladeshi immigrant mother from Queens- had her license suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles (one of 300,000 state-wide to receive Social security No Match letters) and was reported to immigration after she went to the DMV office. Shilpi was arrested by ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) in front of her family, separated from her two U.S. citizen children, and detained. DRUM fought Shilpi's campaign, but she was deported to Bangladesh after no legal options were left in her immigration case.
Since then, DRUM has exposed the collaboration between the DMV and Department of Homeland Security and joined the New York State Coalition for Immigrants Rights to Drivers Licenses to highlight the concerns of South Asians, particularly Muslim immigrants, particularly targeted for deportation under post 9/11 "War on Terror" policies. In January 2005, DRUM formed the Queens Drivers License Coalition alongside Centro Hispano Cuzcatlan, NICE, and New York Civic Participation Project. This coalition eventually changed our name and is now called Immigrant Communities in Action (ICA). In March 2005, DRUM joined these groups to organize the first major community march and rally for drivers licenses turning out over 400 people through the streets of Queens.
We deeply recognize the leadership in this fight over the years of our members who are no longer with us, such as Moni Alam. Moni helped launched this campaign among DRUM's membership as a directly affected immigrant women herself. Moni was the wife of an undocumented cab driver facing deportation under Special Registrations. Moni and her family have since been deported, but continue to work with DRUM and fight for immigrant rights in Toronto, Canada.
From 2004 through 2007, DRUM has been leading the South Asian community in this campaign, served on the Steering Committee of ICA, and worked within the New York State Coalition for Immigrants Right to Drivers Licenses to mobilize for numerous demonstrations, community forums, meetings with elected officials, and visits to Albany to negotiate with the state government to win this major immigration policy victory.
DRUM's next step will be to spread this information to the South Asian community and continue to organize with ICA and the NY Coalition for Immigrants Rights to Drivers Licenses to make sure that the Governor keeps his promise to give licenses by early next year and to protect the information in their database from being shared or used by immigration. DRUM will focus on efforts to pressure the DMV to guarantee protection of immigration status information and to not cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security- Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, DRUM pledges to continue to wage a fight to defeat the REAL ID Act which may take effect state-by-state by 2010. If the REAL ID Act, which is a federal law, takes effect in New York State, then immigrants will lose access to licenses again.
WE MUST CELEBRATE THIS VICTORY OF GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING BY IMMIGRANT PEOPLE AND STAY VIGILANT!
We must keep fighting to win guaranteed non-collaboration commitment between the NY State DMV and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Spitzer Grants Illegal Immigrants Easier Access to Driver’s Licenses
By NINA BERNSTEIN
New York State, home to more than 500,000 illegal immigrants, will issue driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status under a policy change announced yesterday by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The change rolls back rules adopted four years ago under the Pataki administration that made it difficult, if not impossible, for tens of thousands of immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses because they could not prove legal status. Under the new rules, the Department of Motor Vehicles will accept a current foreign passport as proof of identity without also requiring a valid yearlong visa or other evidence of legal immigration.
The policy, which does not require legislative approval, will be phased in starting in December and will be tied to new antifraud measures, the governor said. Those measures will include the authentication of foreign passports and the use of photo comparison technology to ensure that no driver has more than one license.
The governor called it a “common sense change” that will improve traffic safety and lower insurance costs for all New Yorkers by ensuring that more immigrants have valid licenses and auto insurance. Giving more immigrants verifiable identification will also enhance law enforcement by bringing people out of the shadows, he asserted.
“The D.M.V. is not the I.N.S.,” Mr. Spitzer said, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, now part of Homeland Security, by its old initials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The move goes against the national trend. Many states, prodded by demands to crack down on identity fraud, have added requirements that effectively prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.
All but eight states now require drivers to prove legal status to obtain driver’s licenses, and those eight — Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington — have come under pressure to add such a requirement.
To keep New York from becoming a magnet for people unable to obtain driver’s licenses elsewhere, the Spitzer administration will propose legislation to add a residency requirement similar to one already in effect in 27 states, David J. Swarts, the motor vehicles commissioner, said.
Mr. Swarts and other officials pointed to a study showing that unlicensed drivers were almost five times more likely to be in fatal crashes than people with valid driver’s licenses. The State Department of Insurance estimates that the new rules will save New York drivers $120 million each year by reducing premium costs associated with uninsured motorists by 34 percent.
The change fulfilled a promise Mr. Spitzer made repeatedly last year in his campaign, and it was hailed by immigrant organizations and labor unions that had pushed hard for it. Those groups said that the regulations imposed by the Pataki administration had hurt about 250,000 immigrants who needed licenses to drive to work, to hospitals or to schools.
“Immigrant communities throughout the nation can take heart that today’s victory may begin to turn the tide toward sensible and humane reforms at the federal level,” said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella group for more than 150 immigrant self-help and advocacy organizations.
But the new policy drew immediate fire from groups that had welcomed the Pataki administration rules as a needed crackdown on license fraud and as the kind of national security measure demanded by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Peter Gadiel, the president of 9/11 Families for a Secure America, whose son died in the World Trade Center, released a scathing statement even before the official announcement yesterday.
“Governor Spitzer will demonstrate abject stupidity and breathtaking disregard for the victims of 9/11 if he hands these powerful ID’s to people who sneak across our borders,” he wrote. “Terrorists here illegally used licenses to kill my son and thousands of others in the World Trade Center; if they do it again using New York licenses issued by this governor, the blood of the victims will be on Mr. Spitzer’s hands.”
When that statement was read aloud by a reporter to Mr. Spitzer, he seemed taken aback, then called the words inflammatory and “way beyond” the bounds of appropriate discourse. He added that people who ignore the reality of illegal immigrants only encourage the use of false Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses.
Michael A. L. Balboni, Mr. Spitzer’s deputy secretary for public safety, said the New York driver’s license was one of the most secure documents in the nation and that the new licensing regime would make it even better.
Social Security cards and birth certificates, which include no photos or other biometric data, have also been prone to fraud, he said.
New York will join 18 other states in trying technology that will check a driver’s photo overnight against all other photos in the state’s driver database, to prevent people from holding multiple licenses, officials said. The technology will be tested in a pilot project upstate.
The new policy will start with about 152,000 New Yorkers who have, or once had, licenses but were unable to renew them under the Pataki rules, Mr. Swarts said. This group will be notified by letter next week about how to begin a relicensing process. It will start at the end of the year, and for some will involve a new road test.
A second phase, to begin in April, will open the application process to all, with as many as 500,000 people newly eligible for licenses. This will involve a more rigorous screening, Mr. Swarts said, including a four- to six-week process of authenticating foreign passports and other foreign identity documents.
Across the street from the Midtown office building where Mr. Spitzer delivered the news, a throng of jubilant immigrants from community organizations waved signs and shouted their approval.
One member of the group, who would identify himself only as Cesar, an immigrant from Peru, said he had been afraid of driving without authorization and had had to depend on friends to drive him to work. “Now, thank God, I won’t have this difficulty in my life,” he said.