"I’m super excited. Thanks to God we have this opportunity.”
Griselda Avila is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in Queens. With the state’s new Greenlight Law taking effect Saturday, Avila was able to apply for a driver’s license in the city Monday for the first time.
She was one of hundreds of people who lined up for hours outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Flushing, waiting for it to open. She says becoming a legal driver will change her family’s life.
“I live in Queens, I work on Long Island,” she says. Without a car, the commute has been taking her two hours, she says. “Having a car [will be] a big thing,” she adds.
The new law loosens some of the rules put in place after 9/11 to crack down on document fraud. A Social security number is no longer necessary to apply for a license, and DMV clerks no longer ask applicants about their immigration status.
Immigrant advocates lobbied for years for the law. It passed only after Democrats took total control of the state Legislature this year.
Supporters point out many undocumented immigrants already drive without a license -- risking deportation if they are caught. They say licenses will end that risk, plus make streets safer because these drivers will now need to pass a driving test and get insurance. But the biggest impact might be economic. It will be easier for the undocumented to get to and from work.
One of those waiting on line, Felipe Gonzalez, says, “Right now we are afraid of driving, even if it’s necessary.”
Applicants will be able to submit alternate forms of identification, including passports or driver's licenses from other countries.
A few county clerks upstate said they would not comply with the new law, one arguing it would require him to violate federal law because it prohibits him from sharing information with immigration authorities. But federal judges have twice rejected challenges to the statute.
Supporters point out that undocumented immigrants will still need several documents to prove their identity and that they live in the state. That includes a passport, a valid foreign driver’s license and a municipal ID card.