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Saratoga County opposes licenses for undocumented immigrants

Saratoga County opposes licenses for undocumented immigrants

Bill could come before state Legislature this session
Saratoga County opposes licenses for undocumented immigrants
New York State driver license in wallet.
Photographer: M. Unal Ozman/Shutterstock

SARATOGA COUNTY — County supervisors on Tuesday approved a resolution opposing state legislation that could allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses.

"The board has concerns with the proposed state legislation that would weaken identification requirements for individuals applying for a New York State ID card or driver's license," said Board of Supervisors' Chairman Kevin Tollisen, R-Halfmoon. "The board supports current state law that gives the privilege of a driver's license to those who are here legally as defined by federal law."

In taking a position, the county leaders are weighing in on an issue that's been before state legislators before, but has a new chance of passing this year with Democrats now in control of the state Senate.

Legislation is currently in committee in both the Assembly and Senate, but could come to a vote within the next month, according to some legislators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled support for the idea without endorsing specific legislation.

The idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses to drive has significant support in New York City and downstate areas that have a larger undocumented population than most upstate communities. It is estimated 265,000 people who don't have licenses now could apply, including 51,000 people in upstate.

Supporters say allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses will make the roads safer, because many of those immigrants are driving now, but without licenses or auto insurance—and they run the risk of being deported over a traffic stop. They would qualify for a standard license, but not an enhanced or real-ID license.

Twelve other states and Washington, D.C., allow those without documentation to obtain driver's licenses.

"However you may feel about immigration, this proposal is just good common sense," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. "It's best for all of us when everyone on the road is tested, licensed and insured."

Saratoga County officials, however, say that the undocumented won't need to provide the same identification documents as native-born license applicants, because they won't need to provide a Social Security number. It also limits how much information the state Department of Motor Vehicles can share with law enforcement agencies without a warrant.

"Any legislation that compromises public safety or strips law enforcement's ability to keep our roadways safe is misguided and flawed," said Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner, whose office oversees DMV operations in the county.

Hayner, like all countywide elected officials in Saratoga County, is a Republican. The party has generally been opposed to the legislation.

"To remove these tools and to require a warrant to access records would severely impede our ability to keep our roadways safe and to combat crime," said Saratoga County Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo, who also opposes the legislation.

In March, a Siena College poll found most New York voters opposed the idea, though it was supported among liberals, blacks and Latinos. Overall, 61 percent of those polled were opposed.

"Overwhelmingly, Republicans and independents, upstaters and downstate suburbanites oppose allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses," Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said at the time. 

Strong public opposition doomed the idea when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer raised the possibility in 2007, and it went nowhere, with the Republican-controlled state Senate vowing to oppose legislation if it ever came to a vote.

The county board resolution will be forwarded to state officials representing the county.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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