DMV/Provided Photo

ITHACA, N.Y. — The City of Ithaca recently declared Ithaca a sanctuary city, granting protection to undocumented immigrants, and on the same night also urged New York lawmakers to grant driver’s licenses to all residents of New York, regardless of their immigration status.

Advocates of granting the licenses to all residents say doing so would increase revenue for the state, improve public safety and give immigrants a way to get to work, buy groceries, take children to school and travel in case of emergencies.

If someone walked into a Department of Motor Vehicles in New York today to get a license, they would need to show proof they are in the country legally.

Roxanne Iacovelli, deputy county clerk and supervisor a the Tompkins County DMV, explained under current procedures to get a driver’s license or permit, a citizen would have to show proof of birth and proof of social security. A non-citizen would have to show their passport; a legal document that shows they have legal status in the country, such as a visa; and they would need proof of social security or proof of ineligibility for social security, Iacovelli said.

On Wednesday, after Common Council unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming Ithaca as a sanctuary city and opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it also unanimously passed a resolution in support of issuing driver’s licenses to New York State residents regardless of immigration status.

• Related: Ithaca now a Sanctuary City with some teeth

• Related: Ithaca opposes repeal of Affordable Care Act

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the Fiscal Policy Institute released dual reports Tuesday highlighting the social and economic benefits to granting driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. According to the comptroller’s report, New York State could gain up to $9.6 million in driver’s license fees. The reports also say the state would see a boost in car sales and decrease insurance costs. However, FPI says the decrease in insurance costs would be “modest.”

In its report, FPI cites data from the Center for Migration Studies, which estimates there are more than 750,000 unauthorized immigrants in New York 16 years or older.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, filed a bill this week to expand driver’s license privileges to undocumented immigrants living in New York. The bill says the applicant will not be required to establish legal presence in the U.S. at the time of their application, and says the license could be used as legal identification.

New York would not be alone in having such a measure. According to the comptroller’s report, 12 states including neighboring Vermont and Connecticut, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently grant licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Both reports also said issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants would improve public safety by allowing more drivers to be tested, licensed and insured. An unanticipated benefit that the California Department of Motor Vehicles saw was an increase of organ donors when the state authorized immigrants to have driver’s licenses, according to FPI.

The Fiscal Policy Institute’s report found that within three years, 265,000 people would be eligible to get driver’s licenses, including 11,000 in Northern and Western New York. FPI estimated about 500 people would get licenses in Binghamton, the closest metro area analyzed.

Lewis Papenfuse, executive director of Worker Justice of New York, said in a news release granting licenses to immigrants would help farm workers and others that are isolated in rural areas in Upstate New York.

“For farmworkers and other isolated immigrant workers living in rural communities throughout Upstate New York, having a driver’s license is absolutely essential to ensuring access to basic necessities. … When workers must rely on employers to purchase their groceries or provide them with rides to the doctor, their bosses gain control over virtually all aspects of their lives. As an organization that aims to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse, we see driver’s license access as an important workers’ rights and human rights issue,” Papenfuse said.

Read the resolution:

Resolution urging state to grant licenses regardless of immigration status by Kelsey O’Connor on Scribd

Featured image from New York DMV

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.