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Q&A on driver's licenses for immigrants in United States illegally 

A demonstrator shows his support for the driver's

A demonstrator shows his support for the driver's license measure at a rally at the state Capitol on Monday. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

 The New York Legislature on Monday passed the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, often known as the Green Light Law, by a vote of 33 to 29 in the Senate. The state Assembly earlier had approved the measure 87 to 61. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill, which allows immigrants here illegally to obtain noncommercial driver’s licenses and learner’s permits, into law Monday.

Here is what you need to know about the law:

What is the purpose of the new law?

Supporters said the legislation would improve safety by ensuring that many immigrants in the country illegally, already on the road, are properly trained, tested and fully insured, helping to reduce hit-and-run accidents. Proponents also say the bill will help the economy by ensuring that immigrants in the country illegally have a way to get to work, school or doctor's appointments, allowing them to more easily navigate their day-to-day lives. Opponents of the measure argue that a license could compromise security and provide immigrants here illegally with access to state and local services for which they are not entitled, such as health care, voting and education.

What proof of identity does an applicant need to apply for a driver’s license?

Anyone without legal immigration status would need to prove their age and identity with valid foreign-issued documents. Three forms of documentation will be accepted. They include an unexpired passport from their country of citizenship; valid identification issued by the consulate from the applicant's home country; or a valid foreign driver's license that includes a photo of the applicant. The bill waives the requirement that applicants have a valid Social Security number if they sign an affidavit that they have not been issued a Social Security number. 

Applicants also will have to prove they live in New York State by providing documentation, such as a utility bill, with their name and address on it.

Does an applicant have to take a written test? A road test?

An immigrant living in New York State illegally who has a valid foreign driver's license can continue using that license to operate a motor vehicle until that license expires, although Department of Motor Vehicles regulations direct those individuals to promptly apply for a New York State license. Applicants with an expired foreign license would have to apply for a state-issued driver's license, first by obtaining a learner's permit. To get a learner's permit, individuals must file an application with the DMV, and pass a written exam and a vision test. To get a license, applicants would also have to pass a road test.

How does this relate to the federal Real ID program?

Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, the federal government will require a driver’s license to comply with the federal Real ID program if the license is to be used to board a domestic or foreign flight or enter a military base or other federal facilities. Under the new state law, the driver's license for immigrants in the United States illegally will be stamped “not for federal purposes" and so cannot be used as a Real ID. Proof of U.S. citizenship such as a passport and other proof of residency would be required to obtain a license that complies with the Real ID program.

What license classifications does the law apply to? 

The law allows immigrants who live here illegally to obtain a noncommercial driver's license. The bill does not change the requirements for drivers to obtain a commercial driver's license.

Can an applicant go to any DMV office to get a driver’s license?

Yes. An applicant can go to any DMV office with the proper paperwork to begin applying for a noncommercial driver's license.

How long is the driver’s license good for?

A learner's permit and driver's license are valid for a maximum of five years. 

What kind of information can’t be disclosed about an applicant?

The measure contains a number of provisions that prevent federal immigration officials from locating immigrants who live in the country illegally and who use state-issued driver's licenses. The driver's license and permit applications, along with the holder's photo, can be released through a court order, subpoena or judicial warrant; if it is required to update the National Driver Register, which permits states to share information about an individual's driving record; or if the applicant requests a copy of the information.

When does the law go into effect?

In 180 days, which is Saturday, Dec. 14.


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