The New York Times endorsed driver’s licenses for immigrants this week on its editorial page. According to the New York Times:
As long as Washington remains unable to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, states will be left to decide how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants who are a part of their communities and the work force.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and the now Democratic-led State Legislature recently agreed to let undocumented immigrants apply for state financial aid to attend college, tapping a pool of talent and giving more young people a chance to fully participate in American life.
There are an estimated 725,000 undocumented immigrants in New York State, making up more than 5 percent of the labor force in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. They pay $1.1 billion in state and local taxes each year, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates.
Almost 250,000 of them live in the suburbs and upstate, where people rely on cars to get to work and school. That’s why the governor and legislative leaders have proposed legislation to let undocumented immigrants receive driver’s licenses, as a dozen states and the District of Columbia do.
Under legislation pending in Albany, applicants would no longer be required to show proof they are in the country legally. They could use foreign passports to establish their identity and obtain a standard driver’s license, once, of course, they pass the same tests as everyone else.
Though researchers say it is hard to isolate a single factor when studying road safety, law enforcement officials have said that knowing who is on the road is a clear benefit. William Bratton — who served as police commissioner in both Los Angeles and New York — has supported such measures, saying they would reduce the number of hit-and-runs, increase the number of insured motorists and, by having identification on record, help fight crime and terrorism.
One 2017 study found hit-and-run accidents in California decreased by an average of 7 percent to 10 percent after undocumented immigrants were allowed to get driver’s licenses. After New Mexico approved similar legislation, the percentage of uninsured drivers fell to 9.1 percent in 2011 from 33 percent in 2002.
Issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants would also bring the state more revenue. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates New York could see about $26 million in fees for license applications and car registration, and the gasoline tax.
Opponents say the state should not make it easier for immigrants who are here illegally to work jobs they are not supposed to have. But the bill would reflect reality: Undocumented immigrants are already driving on the state’s roads.