TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution Tuesday that supports a bill to allow driver’s licenses to be issued to any New York state resident regardless of immigration status. Though it passed, support for the resolution was not unanimous.
The resolution supports the New York Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, which has versions making their way through the state Assembly and Senate. The act would amend the requirements to apply for a standard driver’s license in New York so the inability to obtain a social security number is not a barrier to driving in New York, the resolution notes.
By allowing more access to driver’s licenses, the resolution states public safety will improve “by ensuring drivers are properly licensed, educated on the traffic laws, and will help ensure that people are driving a vehicle that is properly insured, licensed and inspected.” New license applicants will be subject to existing standards, including passing a road test, before receiving a New York license.
The resolution also states that the act could improve trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, who may be more willing to cooperate with police.
Related: Tompkins to consider resolution urging state to grant driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status
Legislator Anna Kelles, who worked on the resolution, said the bill being considered are not intended fix anything about immigration on a federal level, but is specifically designed to improve road safety. She said there are already people driving who are undocumented, and this measure is intended to make sure they get a license that verifies their identity and knowledge of road safety rules. The license would not be valid for federal purposes such as international travel.
“While the federal government is dealing with figuring out our immigration policies, we locally can make sure that everybody on the road are safe,” Kelles said. She also said this is a step in the right direction of allowing integration of immigrant neighbors in the county.
Sheriff Derek Osborne has previously voiced his support for the state bill and said Tuesday he supports equal access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status because he wants people locally to be able to call police.
“As sheriff, my job duty under the state constitution is I’m the conservator of the peace,” Osborne said. “I don’t get to pick who I conserve that peace for. … When I think about conserving the peace, I think about the people who often have to call law enforcement and what maybe bars them from doing that. I think about the immigrant female that works on a farm who is maybe abused by a farmhand and fears calling us because she’s afraid we’re going to start asking for IDs and trying to figure out who she is and something bad is going to happen to her and her family.”
Though the resolution did pass the Public Safety Committee unanimously, it was not supported by all members of the full Legislature. It passed 10-3, with Legislators Mike Sigler, Dave McKenna and Glenn Morey voting no.
Sigler said, “I don’t understand this at all.” He said the resolution ignores the larger immigration issue. “We may differ on solutions, but to act like 100,000 people crossing the Southern border isn’t an issue – I don’t even understand what you’re talking about.”
Sigler pointed to a part of the resolution which states many people in New York are currently being denied driver’s licenses that they need to get to work, buy groceries, take children to school, and travel to medical appointments, and said, “Frankly, they’re not supposed to have jobs. I’m not trying to other anybody here, but the law is you have to actually have a social security number to work in this country.”
He said by passing this resolution, it will make it “easier for people to live in the shadows.”
In response to some of Sigler’s comments, Kelles said she wanted to make it clear that, “people should never assume that immigrants have committed a crime by the sheer fact of being here undocumented.”
Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, who is an immigrant, cautioned people from buying into the rhetoric that immigrants — documented or undocumented — are criminals. “We work hard, we contribute in whatever ways we can, work toward being legal.” She said providing undocumented immigrants with a legal form of identification would help ease the path toward documentation for some New Yorkers. “I think it’s a small thing that we can urge the state to do.”