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LI DMV offices packed with undocumented immigrants seeking driver's licenses

The line outside the DMV in Medford on

The line outside the DMV in Medford on Tuesday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Department of Motor Vehicles offices across Long Island were jammed on Tuesday by thousands of people in the country illegally, who waited for hours on long lines that snaked outside the offices for an opportunity to apply for a driver’s license, advocates said.

Immigrants lined up as early as 4 a.m., despite the cold and rain, as a new state law permitting immigrants here illegally to obtain licenses went into full effect for a second day.

“It’s something that is very historic and is very emotional for many in our community who have been living in the shadows,” said Dulce Rojas, a senior community organizer with the Patchogue-based advocacy group Sepa Mujer. “It’s giving somebody an identity. It’s saying you are part of this community.”

At the DMV in Medford on Tuesday morning, a line of more than 200 immigrants spilled outside as they waited for their chance to get into the packed office and apply for a license under the so-called Green Light Law.

“It is like a present for Christmas for the Latinos,” said Claudia Castro, 46, an East Patchogue resident who works cleaning houses and offices.

Castro said she has lived in the United States for 24 years and has been waiting for the day she could get a driver’s license. She said she arrived at the Medford office at 6:30 a.m., and by 10 a.m. was still outside waiting in line.

“For me this is very exciting,” she said in Spanish. “We thank the state of New York.”

Still, Rojas and others said the DMV offices seemed overwhelmed and unprepared for the influx of applicants.

“It has been chaotic,” Rojas said.

State officials said they were doing what they could to handle the crowds.

“As expected, we experienced larger crowds today and yesterday — and in preparation the NYS DMV added resources, like kiosks, to assist customers in the offices whose transactions can be completed online, updated our reservation system, adjusted staffing levels, and encouraged customers to use our website to prepare for their visit, which improves the wait times for everyone in the office,” the DMV said in a statement.

“DMV staff also continuously walks the line of customers to offer forms, helpful information and to make reservations for customers who were not able to complete their transaction or who might want to come back at a later date.”

At offices such as the one in Medford, extra security guards were brought in.

Many immigrants said that basic activities such as driving their children to school or to doctors’ appointments will no longer be nerve-racking because of worries they would be pulled over by the police and given a ticket.

Some 15 states now grant driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the United States illegally, with New Jersey lawmakers on Monday becoming the latest to approve them.

Advocates say the law will make the roads safer by requiring immigrants here illegally to pass a driving test and get insurance for their vehicles. It will also provide a boost in revenue to the government and to insurance companies, they say.

Opponents say people who are in the country illegally are being unfairly rewarded, and maintain the move encourages people to immigrate in violation of federal laws.

Long Island is home to an estimated 100,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to advocates.

It took 20 years to get the law passed in New York, which is home to a total of 700,000 immigrants here illegally, according to the advocacy group Make the Road New York.

At the Massapequa DMV on Tuesday around noon, at least 300 people stood in a long line that wound up and down the hallways of the office. Many said they had been there for hours.

When the office opened, “it was like Black Friday,” said Carmen Gomez, 46, of Franklin Square.

“It’s great they decided to do it,” said Gomez, who came to the United States from Guatemala at age 13 and is finally hoping to get her license. “I’m going to be not afraid to drive.”

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