New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner David Swarts announced the administrative policy change on Friday, much to the glee of advocates and. the angst of immigration critics.
But the governor insisted that the plan has been developed "after a comprehensive review" and the DMV has decided that the changes will increase the security of the state's license system by obtaining better and more verifiable information from applicants.
This, he said, will decrease the number of uninsured drivers on the roads, lower auto insurance rates for all drivers and, when necessary, help law enforcement agencies in their investigations.
The DMV estimates that tens of thousands of undocumented, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are currently on New York's roads, contributing to increased accidents and hit-and-runs as well as higher auto insurance rates.
Informational letters from DMV will be part of Phase 1 and be sent to the approximately 152,000 New Yorkers who at one point had (or currently have) a New York State license, but are unable to renew it because of the previous administrative policy.
The re-licensing process begins at the end of 2007 and those reapplying will need to prove their identity, date of birth and fitness to drive before being issued a new license.
Phase 2 will begin six to eight months after Phase 1 and will open the application process to all New Yorkers. The DMVs secure six-point ID requirement will be based on an expanded list of valid and verifiable documents that will exclude a Social Security number or permanent residency proof. Along with the other identity documents currently on the list, individuals' identities will be verified using this new document verification technology to reduce the potential for fraud.
The new policy will apply to all state-issued licenses that are not governed by certain federal laws that require a social security number, like commercial driver licenses and hazardous materials endorsements.
Currently, eight other states' — Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington — do not require drivers to prove legal status in order to obtain a license.
Amy Sugimori, co-chair of the New York Coalition for Immigrants' Rights to Driver's Licenses, called the announcement "a huge victory for the immigrant, civil rights and labor movements."
"For four years, diverse groups from across the state have been working to ensure that all New Yorkers are treated equally by the government. Today, our voices are being heard. We applaud Governor Spitzer for his leadership as he sends a strong message to the country that second-class treatment of immigrants is bad public policy," added Sugimori.
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By Felicia Persaud