At a moment when the federal government seems poised to target immigrants to America, one local leader is making the case for empowering them. City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is a likely candidate in the upcoming mayoral election, has released an analysis making the case that granting New York State driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants (570,000 of whom live within the five boroughs of New York City) would create a broad range of benefits for the City and State as a whole.
Mr. Stringer’s report, “The Road to Opportunity: Granting Driver’s Licenses to All New Yorkers,” notes that such an expansion of eligibility would increase automobile sales within the State by 2.7 percent, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in new registration and title fees, along with a similar windfall in sales taxes on both vehicles and gasoline. Such a program would also lead directly to $9.6 million in new State revenue from license fees, of which more than $1.3 million would be legally set aside to subsidize mass transit. (All of this new revenue would be in addition to the estimated $1.1 billion in taxes that undocumented immigrants already pay each year to the City and the State.)
The Comptroller’s report also cites evidence that denying driving credentials to undocumented immigrants boosts insurance costs for licensed drivers by as much as $17.22 per person each year. For New York’s 3.6 million licensed drivers, this could translate into a savings of more than $60 million per year.
Finally, Mr. Stringer’s report cites benefits that are harder to quantify, noting that the opportunity to drive legally will provide undocumented immigrants living in New York with more access to higher-paying jobs, and should also, “strengthen families by making it easier for parents to drive their children to and from school.” The analysis additionally projects that public safety would benefit as more drivers learn the basic motoring skills and rules of the road that are a legal prerequisite for obtaining a license, and that fewer motorists would face the financial hardship that can result from an accident involving an uninsured driver. Granting legal driving credentials to undocumented immigrants would also give them less reason to fear law enforcement personnel, the report notes, and help to build trust between police and immigrant communities.
Currently 12 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
“The time is right for our State to make this change, Mr. Stringer said as his report was released, on Tuesday. “When backwards rhetoric and backwards policymaking are pouring out of Washington, this is a forward-looking proposal for New York State to meaningfully empower communities that need our support. Granting licenses is not just a statement of our values — it’s practical because it makes our roads safer, brings immigrants out of the shadows, and saves everyone money. Implementing this proposal will cement our legacy as a City and a State that welcomes immigrants. It is, simply, the right thing to do.”
“Hard-working families deserve a chance to realize the American Dream,” Mr. Stringer added. “Granting driver’s licenses is an important step forward for the New Yorkers who contribute so much to our City.”
Mr. Stringer has a long history of using government policy to advance social justice. On several occasions, he has fought to compel real estate developers to uphold promises about affordable housing they made when seeking the right to erect large residential projects in Lower Manhattan. (This has been the case twice with buildings in Battery Park City.) And in 2016, he proposed that excess revenue from the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) be allocated to repair the crumbling low-income housing infrastructure operated by the New York City Housing Authority.”