Right now, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are barred from obtaining a driver’s license due solely to their immigration status. That lack of access causes undue hardships on hardworking immigrant families across the state.
New York lawmakers are considering a solution: the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, more commonly known as the Green Light Bill. Under the proposed law, New Yorkers who are in the country without legal status would be able to take driver’s education courses and pass a road test to obtain a license. This process would be no different than any other eligible individual applying for a license, and would, in turn, produce more educated, insured and licensed drivers and increase the safety of our roads.
For me and for my faith community, this is personal. I myself am a second-generation American, and our diocese -- which spans from the Brooklyn Bridge to Montauk -- is the most diverse Episcopal diocese in the country. The vast majority of our members are themselves immigrants, or first-generation Americans. Our parishes are filled with worshippers from the Caribbean, Central and South America, Asia, and many sectors of the African diaspora. But as the spiritual leader of this flock, it is my obligation to protect and care for not only our members, but also everyone in our corner of God's vineyard.
As any resident of Long Island could attest, the ability to drive is essential to get around in suburban and rural areas like these. Limited public transportation in our communities makes it highly difficult, if not impossible, for undocumented immigrant families to purchase groceries, bring their children to and from school, attend their place of worship, and even make it to critical doctors' appointments.
For those who drive unlicensed for the sake of their families, they risk being stopped by police and face possible deportation. This protracted, inescapable fear of deportation is then combined with the potential for their families to face irreversible damage if they are separated. This reality is tearing apart communities, barring immigrant families from fully participating in the local economy, and erecting barriers to access for basic services. And this bill would lift up thousands of families throughout the state, eliminating fears of deportation while generating an estimated $57 million in new annual state revenue.
Similar bills have passed in 12 states as well as in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., improving the quality of life for hardworking immigrants and protecting communities by increasing road safety. In New Mexico, the rates of both fatal traffic accidents and uninsured drivers decreased sharply in the years following the law’s passage, and in California, hit-and-run rates fell.
This legislation is a commonsense proposal that offers us an opportunity to uphold our values as a welcoming and just state, while fulfilling our moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of our community from harm and persecution. The passage of this bill is sensible, and it is the right thing to do.
The Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.