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Advocacy group pushes for illegal immigrant driver's licenses

After years of debate in New York about allowing immigrants here illegally to obtain licenses, the argument is heating up with Democrats in control of the State Legislature. 

woman holding at the door using the old

woman holding at the door using the old knock door Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/istock

Advocacy group Make the Road Action tells The Point its canvassers have knocked on more than 5,000 doors in four Long Island State Senate districts to gin up support for “Driver’s Licenses for All” legislation pending in Albany.

After years of debate in New York about allowing immigrants here illegally to obtain licenses, the argument is heating up with Democrats in control of the State Legislature. And Long Island is a key battleground: a March Quinnipiac poll found significantly less support for the licenses in the suburbs than in New York City. 

An April poll from the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress also found more opposition to the license initiative on Long Island than elsewhere in New York, but the opposition dropped after further questioning that pointed at benefits of the licenses.

So Make the Road Action has canvassed across the districts of Democratic State Sens. Monica Martinez, Jim Gaughran, Kevin Thomas, and John Brooks for approximately the last month. The group has targeted registered voters in the districts, not just Democrats or Latino residents, says managing director Daniel Altschuler. Of the more than 5,000 door-knocking attempts in which residents were urged to call their senators about the issue, around 1,200 resulted in signatures to a petition urging senators and the governor to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, the senators are not jumping to express public support for the legislation, despite the concerted push by Make the Road Action and other advocates.

Gaughran had provided a middle-of-the-road statement on the issue to news site The City last month,  in which he said he was “supportive of increasing access to a driver’s license” but still examining public safety implications. On Monday, his spokeswoman emailed a slightly more negative statement to The Point: “The current version of the bill raises serious public safety concerns by law enforcement, including ensuring that people with dangerous driving histories are not issued a license, which must be fully addressed before the Senator can consider this bill.”

A spokesman for Thomas noted in an email that the bill is still in committee, and that “the senator would like to wait and see if there [are] any amendments made before making a determination. There are still privacy and law enforcement concerns.”

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