OP-ED: Let NY’s immigrants get behind the wheel

The Workmen’s Circle
Ann Toback is Executive Director of the Workmen’s Circle.


Since 2001, proof of legal immigration status has been required to obtain a driver’s license in New York State. Driving without a license is a misdemeanor during a routine traffic stop, but its enforcement is being used as a heavy-handed tactic to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants and refugees.

Every day, New Yorkers who are doing nothing other than traveling to work or school are entrapped by a DMV rule requiring proof of immigration status to get a driver’s license. People are forced to make the terrible choice of driving without a license or not being able to get to work or take their children to the doctor. Making these necessary choices for day-to-day living is giving immigration officials the excuse they need to detain and deport hard-working members of New York’s immigrant community, including parents who are being separated from their families.

It is unconscionable that in 2018 immigrant and refugee residents of New York state are being rounded up and held in detention centers as a result of routine traffic stops.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has the executive power to change that with the simple stroke of a pen. In doing so, New York would join California, Nevada, Utah, and nine other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. 

Gov. Cuomo is committed to holding up our state, and his own administration, as exemplars of inclusion in the face a national anti-immigrant tide.

“The State of New York has a proud legacy as the progressive capital of the nation,” he has said. “Let me be absolutely clear: if anyone feels that they are under attack, I want them to know that the state of New York — the state that has the Statue of Liberty in its harbor — is their refuge.” 

And if the governor is truly committed to that ideal, then issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants and refugees is not  too much to ask.

As an organization with more than a century-old commitment to justice for all — ourselves founded by immigrants who traveled to the United States seeking safety for their families and the freedom to live better lives — the Workmen’s Circle recently coordinated with other Jewish organizations to send a letter to the Governor urging him to put action behind his oft-stated protection of immigrants and refugees and by an executive order to provide driver’s licenses for all residents of New York State regardless of immigration status.

 Creating a standard driver’s license accessible to all New Yorkers is a matter of public safety. Roads are safer when all drivers can be tested, licensed and insured. Moreover, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, ensuring access to licenses to all will be a boon to the state’s economy. 

The Jewish American community has not forgotten our own immigrant and refugee experiences of the past century, when our ancestors were not always welcomed, or indeed even allowed, into the United States. 

We are committed to making sure that this terrible history is not repeated, and to ensuring that New York State is a sanctuary to the hard-working  immigrant and refugee population who call New York home. 

This is now in the Governor’s hands. We hope you will join us and tell Gov. Cuomo (518-474-8390) that the time is now to issue this critical Executive Order.  It’s the practical thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.

Ann Toback is the Executive Director of the Workmen’s Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *