By Adam Pincus
The federal legislation, signed in May, gives the states three years to develop stricter federal minimum standards for documents needed to obtain a driver's license and bans states from issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Shirley Lin, an organizer from New Immigrant Community Empowerment in Jackson Heights, said the Real ID Act is “part of a growing national attempt to criminalize immigrants for acts that are not criminal.”The committee held the hearing to consider two resolutions. The first, Res. 1008, declares the Council's support for recently introduced bipartisan federal legislation for comprehensive immigration reform The second urges New York state to implement the Real ID Act “in a manner that minimizes its negative impact on immigrants in New York City,” City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) said he joined with John Liu (D-Flushing), committee Chairwoman Kendall Stewart(D-Brooklyn) and Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) June 8 to introduce the resolutions to show support for the immigrant communities of New York and the country.”It's a symbolic thing, yes,” Weprin said describing the resolutions, which have no force of law, but “it sends a message to Washington we want to support new immigrants. We don't want to discriminate because of Sept. 11.” Queens is home to the largest and most diverse immigrant population in the city, which as a whole had 2.9 millions immigrants in 2000, the largest in its history. Immigrants comprised 43 percent of the city workforce in 2000. Moni Alam, an immigrant from Bangladesh and community organizer for the Jackson Heights-based Desis Rising Up and Moving, testified that she cannot renew her driver's license, and she feared that her husband, a taxi driver, might be denied a renewal as well.”Immigrants must have access to driver's licenses because this is the only ID we can use to work and access the hospital and other necessary services,” she said.James Perlstein, co-chairman of the solidarity committee of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, testified that the loss of driver's licenses by immigrants would harm the state financially by reducing the number of immigrants in higher education.”College education increases earnings and, as a consequence, increases spending and taxes collected,” he said in his prepared testimony. The union is a member of the New York Coalition for Immigrants Rights to Driver's Licenses, which was formed after the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to suspend the licenses of over 300,000 immigrants. Christine Burling, spokeswoman for the DMV, said the department has suspended 3,465 commercial driver's licenses and in addition suspended the licenses from 1,000 drivers who had more than one license. She said there were about 260,000 license holders whose Social Security numbers remain unverified and thus subject to suspension.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.