Translated and condensed by Carlos Rodríguez Martorell
On Monday, in an act considered historic for immigrant communities, New York became the 13th state in the country to lawfully grant undocumented people the right to obtain driver’s licenses, a benefit they lost 18 years ago.
Still, in the midst of the triumph felt by immigrants and advocacy groups, activists and leaders cautioned applicants to be wary of fraudsters or unscrupulous people who may take advantage of the new law.
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who pushed for passage of the “Green Light” bill approving the new measures, emphasized that all paperwork done by New Yorkers trying to get a license must be done through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The political leader added that applicants should seek assistance and information at community organizations providing free guidance, to avoid falling prey to fraudsters offering to speed up paperwork or the application process.
“This is a historic moment for our communities. Even though we are trying to protect people so that their information does not end up in the hands of the federal government, we also must protect them from being tricked by people who may show up promising things,” the lawmaker said. “That is why it is important to tell people who wish to obtain their license to approach these base groups for advice and avoid being targeted by swindlers.”
Anu Joshi, senior director of immigrant rights policy at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), emphasized that the only payments applicants need to make are for driving lessons and paperwork done directly with the DMV.
“It is crucial for us to educate people about this process and to let them know that organizations are ready to assist. They will even help them check that they have all the required proofs of documents when the time comes to go to their appointment for a driver’s license,” she explained.
Mayra Aldás, NYIC director of community engagement, urged immigrants to beware of offers to help that sound suspicious, adding that the state’s Office for New Americans is offering assistance free of charge.
“We want to tell our people that no one in the DMV is supposed to ask them about their immigration status when they apply for driver’s licenses. Also, that anyone needing more information may reach out to our organizations, where they will receive information in Spanish free of charge,” said the activist.
NYIC executive director Steve Choi insisted on the need to educate New Yorkers about their newly granted right to obtain licenses regardless of their immigration status. With the new law in effect, DMV locations have been seeing large numbers of applicants and long lines—but applicants shouldn’t be swayed by those promising to speed up the process.
“We need to warn people applying for a license that they will go through the same process everyone else currently goes through,” Choi said. “We know that there will be a lot of people wanting to obtain their license, but we also know that there is a process, so if anyone tells you that they can get you a license faster or through different means, please ignore them. Do not listen to them.”
Choi added that immigrants who are worried about their eligibility for a license—for reasons such as prior problems with the authorities—should go only to trusted community organizations to have their cases reviewed, and to avoid being defrauded.
“The help is there. We are promoting this educational campaign alongside our allied groups, but I insist that the process is clear and that no one needs to pay additional costs to people doing the paperwork for them, saying they can help or promising something different,” he said.
The Green Light bill was passed by the State legislature and signed into law in June. It’s expected to earn the state an estimated $9.6 million in revenue from license applications and vehicle ownership fees, a number estimated to reach $57 million in annual income for the city and state governments.
The law, which is initially expected to benefit some 200,000 immigrants, will take effect even after some counties have threatened to sue in order to halt it, and after officials in some towns across the state said that they will not comply. The authorities have told applicants that they should file a report if they are denied of their right.
The DMV is also doing its part to guarantee that the coming wave of applications will not cause chaos, and said that they are ready to start issuing the new licenses. They have also invested resources of over half a million dollars and assigned a staff of some 400 people for the task, according to immigrant defense organizations.