Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act Facts

July 01, 2019

Chapter 37 of the Laws of 2019, as amended

Myth: Undocumented immigrants do not deserve to be rewarded with the privilege of a driver’s license.

Fact: Automotive transportation is a basic necessity of everyday life, commerce, and the economy in most areas of New York State. Driving is not a special privilege afforded only to citizens -- permanent residents, other documented immigrants here on a variety of visas, and guest workers all have access to driving privileges. Limits on who can get driver’s licenses exist to ensure those who get behind the wheel (1) can drive safely, (2) are who they say they are, and (3) live in New York State.

For decades, New York did not limit access to driver’s licenses this way. Revoking access to drivers’ licenses for those who can establish their identity but cannot present documentary proof of citizenship or immigration status is a recent change that started with an executive order from former Governor Pataki. It has not made us safer or more prosperous. Instead, it limits certain people’s access to transportation, with all the economic and safety consequences that entails:

  • Trouble getting to and from jobs, healthcare, shopping, and family;
  • Increased reliance on unsafe, unregulated transportation options; and
  • More drivers on the road driving without valid insurance and without being tested to ensure that they have the required knowledge and skills to be on the road.

Myth: This new law will allow criminals and terrorists to get access to a legal ID through the DMV.

Fact: The DMV will require documentation proving an applicant’s identity, just as it requires such documentation now. The documentation requirements are simply being adjusted so that individuals without a Social Security Number can provide an oath or affirmation that they do not have one. All applicants will still need to prove they are who they say they are through other documents, such as a valid unexpired foreign passport, consular identification document, or recent foreign driver’s license with a photo. It also provides the DMV with discretion to approve additional proofs of identity and age.

Myth: The DMV cannot verify foreign documents. 

Fact: The DMV currently has the technology and capacity to verify foreign documents. It frequently does this now for foreign visa holders.

Myth: This law will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a federal REAL ID and use it as identification to get on airplanes. 

Fact: This law only pertains to the standard license which, under federal law, has a “not for federal purposes” statement on the actual document and will not be accepted for the purpose of accessing federal facilities like boarding commercial airplanes. Proof of citizenship or legal presence is required to obtain a REAL ID. Starting October 1, 2020, only REAL ID licenses can be used for boarding planes or for other federal purposes. Undocumented immigrants still need to provide valid identification issued by their native countries.

Myth: This law will allow men who are currently required to register for Selective Service (the draft) to avoid draft registration.

Fact: This is not correct. Draft-eligible men will continue to be required to register for Selective Service. This law allows male applicants aged 18-26 to opt out of registering as part of their driver’s license application, but the Selective Service law and the consequences for breaking it will be explained in the application. Men frequently register for Selective Service through venues other than driver’s license applications, such as at Post Offices.

Myth: Undocumented people who obtain this license will be able to use it as proof of work authorization for employment

Fact: No one can use a standard New York driver’s license to demonstrate work authorization under current law. That will not change. To obtain employment, job applicants must present other documents that prove they are authorized to work in the U.S.

Myth: The DMV will not cooperate with law enforcement.

Fact: The DMV will continue to be authorized to cooperate with local law enforcement. The need for a judicial warrant only extends to cooperation with immigration agencies or disclosure of the actual “source documents” that were used to apply for the license.

Myth: This law will prevent New York from sharing DMV info with other states and with some Canadian agencies.

Fact: New York is part of the Canadian Driver’s License Compact and the Interstate Driver’s License Compact Agreement, which is used by forty-five states to exchange information regarding traffic violations and license suspensions. These are very important agreements to prevent reckless drivers from getting a license suspended in one state and simply obtaining a new one in another state by ensuring that drivers only have one record. The agreement also holds drivers accountable by making sure that traffic violations committed outside the license holder’s state appears on their record at home. This law does not alter the State’s participation in these agreements in any way, and the DMV will continue to share information.

Myth: This law will force DMV employees to become immigration authorities.

Fact: This law actually takes county clerks out of the position of having to make immigration determinations, by offering a driver’s license to all residents.

Myth: This law will make it impossible for law enforcement to do their job at a traffic stop.

Fact: This law does not interfere with a police officer’s ability to retrieve standard background information on a license holder as a result of a traffic stop, a crash, or any one of a number of other situations where drivers interact with police. The law does contain language making it clear that without a judicial warrant, subpoena, or court order, certain sensitive information must remain private and cannot be shared with immigration authorities. However, this language was crafted in consultation with law enforcement officials, and it is narrowly tailored so state and local law enforcement can look up background information on drivers, maintain public safety, and investigate crimes.

Myth: This law will allow undocumented people to register to vote and increase voter fraud.

Fact: The first question in the voter registration form that is presented at the DMV is: “Are you a U.S. Citizen?” Undocumented people are not citizens and will answer ‘no’ to this question. As a result, they will not be offered an opportunity to register. If they fraudulently answer ‘yes,’ they will have committed a federal crime and will be subject to jail time, fines, and deportation -- and, by applying for a driver’s license, they will have just verified their identity and submitted all the information authorities would need to easily track them down and prosecute them.

Myth: Undocumented people already broke the law, so they will not answer honestly on the voter registration form.

Fact: It is a federal crime for non-citizens to register to vote. Undocumented people could face deportation and separation from their families if they are charged with a federal crime. This is a risk that is very real for them, and they are well aware of their ineligibility to vote.

By submitting all the other information that is required at the DMV -- proof of identity, proof of residency, contact information, physical description -- they will have made it easier to detect and catch any potential fraud. Immigrants who have been living in the shadows, concerned about deportation, will be very sensitive of this.

Myth: Undocumented immigrants still won’t bother to insure their cars.

Fact: Section 312 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law requires a car owner or lessee to maintain insurance in order to register a car. Driving an unregistered or uninsured vehicle is breaking the law. Nothing in the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act changes these requirements.

Myth: Allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses will make our roads more dangerous.

Fact: Ensuring that everyone on New York’s roads have licenses will make everyone safer. Drivers who are properly licensed are much more likely to be safe drivers because they have demonstrated that they have met the basic knowledge and skill requirements of the DMV. Without access to driver’s licenses, undocumented immigrants do not have the same incentive or opportunity to learn to drive safely.

Drivers who are undocumented and driving without a license are more likely to flee the scene of a crash, more likely to flee traffic enforcement and law enforcement officers, and more likely to be nervous on the road. This creates more dangerous roads.

Myth: Undocumented immigrants are more likely to get into crashes and more likely to hit-and-run.

Fact: Evidence proves that providing undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses actually reduces the likelihood of hit-and-run incidents, and does not increase overall crash or fatality rates.

Currently, an undocumented immigrant who gets into a traffic crash without a valid license has an incentive to flee the scene, because any law enforcement official will see that they do not have a license, which is a crime that could lead to the immigrant’s deportation. Providing a license will remove the risk of arrest in many if not most accidents, making it much more likely that the immigrant will stay on the scene, more likely that they will call for help, and more likely that any crash victims with injuries will get the medical attention they need.

Connecticut, which began offering driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in 2015, saw a statewide decline in hit-and-run crashes of 9% from 2016-2018. This decline was larger, at 15%, in the 10 cities that issued the highest concentration of such licenses. [1]

A study by researchers at Stanford University found that California’s policy allowing undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses produced a decrease of 4,000 hit-and-run incidents in 2015. [2] This study also found that there was no increase in overall crashes or fatalities due to undocumented immigrants gaining driving privileges.

Myth: This law will cost the State a lot of money to implement.

Fact: To the contrary, this law will generate some new revenue for the State and its subdivisions. According to estimates from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the New York City Comptroller’s Office, this law could result in revenues of $17.4 million to the State, $6.9 million for local governments (including New York City), and $3.6 million for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) annually for three years. Revenues result from fees and surcharges associated with obtaining licenses, as well as sales, use, and gas taxes associated with an assumed increase in vehicle purchases.

These projections are backed by the experiences of other states. In Connecticut, the state saw a $7.5 million increase in revenue over four years, offset by an implementation cost of $300,000 to set up the new program. [3]

Myth: Localities cannot afford this change in policy.

Fact: Some county clerks have said that this law will raise costs because they will have to hire more workers or pay for overtime, interpreters, and security. [4] However, localities can certainly afford to issue driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers. The provision of these drivers licenses will generate new revenue for local governments, both from the fees to obtain the license, but also from the increased sales, use, and gas taxes associated with new drivers. Even if a few new staff hires are required, local governments will likely easily recoup this money.