Hundreds of undocumented immigrants lined up outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Whitestone Monday morning waiting for their opportunity to apply for a driver’s license thanks to the so-called Green Light Law, which restores access to licenses to all state residents, regardless of immigration status.
Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, the first “Dreamer” elected to the state legislature, grew emotional during a press gathering Sunday at the offices of Make the Road New York in Jackson Heights.
“I grew up undocumented and I never thought I would see the day this would happen,” Cruz said. “To finally give a chance to families like mine to not fear going out every day to work to have a chance at a real life because while they try to destroy us from Washington we’re going to continue to fight to protect our people right here at home.”
The major victory was led by community-based organizations like Make the Road New York, whose volunteers knocked on thousands of doors, collected thousands of petitions, held numerous community forums, and traveled multiple times to lobby in Albany. The Greenlight Law is expected to impact more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who are now eligible to apply.
“Our community stood up for respect and dignity for all, and we won,” Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Javier H. Valdés said. “Now all New Yorker, regardless of immigration status, will be able to apply for driver’s licenses, which will keep our roads safer, stimulate the economy, and keep families together. This historic victory means that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will now be able to take their kids to school and the doctor, get to work efficiently, and respond to emergencies in their families.”
Outside the Queens DMV, immigrants were chanting “Si se pudo!” (We did it) and “Licencias para todos!” (Licenses for all) as they awaited their opportunity.
“What an incredible feeling it will be to finally have a license,” MRNY member Fausto Jiminez said. “This will mean I can drive my family where we want to go, with the peace of mind that I won’t be stopped and torn away from the people I love.”
Experts have found that the Greenlight Law will bring substantial economic benefits to the state including $57 million in annual revenue. New York has joined twelve states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, which have similar policies in place.
“Today we are seeing a massive response from the immigrant community that fought for years to make the Greenlight Law a reality,” MRNY Associate Director of Organizing Yaritza Mendez said. “As we expected, we are seeing thousands of community members come forward to apply for licenses for the first time. People are waiting in the cold because they know that having a license will enable them to drive their kids to school, to the doctor and get to work efficiently, especially in places where there isn’t access to public transit.”
State Attorney General Letitia James won two lawsuits filed by upstate county clerks, who tried to block implementation of the law.
“The Green Light Law is legal and enforceable, and two separate federal courts have now already dismissed the meritless claims of two county clerks,” James said. “The law will help make our roads safer, our economy stronger, and will allow immigrants to come out of the shadows to sign up as legal drivers in our state. We expect all public officials to comply with the law, and, as the state’s attorney and chief law enforcement officer, I will continue to vigorously defend it.”