New York State Executive Chamber | Governor Eliot Spitzer

September 21, 2007

Improves Safety of New York Streets, Lowers Auto Insurance Rates and Brings more New Yorkers into the System

Governor Eliot Spitzer and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner David Swarts today announced an administrative policy change that will give all New Yorkers the opportunity to apply for state driver licenses without regard to immigration status. Tied to the policy change, the Governor and Commissioner also announced plans to implement a new regime of anti-fraud measures to increase the security of the licensing system as a new population of New Yorkers comes into the system.

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. In addition, bringing more New Yorkers into the system will ensure a greater number of people have a license record that, if necessary, can be used to enhance law enforcement efforts.

“I applaud the DMV and Commissioner Swarts for making this commonsense change that deals practically with the reality that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live among us and that allowing them the opportunity to obtain driver licenses in a responsible and secure manner will help increase public safety,” said Governor Eliot Spitzer. “After a comprehensive review, DMV has developed changes that will increase the security of our license system by obtaining better and more verifiable information from applicants, which 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.”

Commissioner Swarts said: “This policy change allows the DMV to focus its resources on its core mission – to ensure that every person driving on our roads is fit to drive and can prove his or her identity. Currently, too many drivers are unlicensed and uninsured simply because they do not have a social security number. Rather than bury our heads in the sand and pretend the problem does not exist, today we are choosing to confront it and in doing so greatly improve the safety of our roads.”

To ensure a smooth transition without disruption to regular customer service, the implementation of the policy change will take place in two phases:

Phase 1 will begin immediately. Informational letters from DMV will 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. DMV will notify these former and current license holders of the policy change and will begin the re-licensing process at the end of 2007. Those affected will still 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 time period between phases will allow the DMV to make the necessary infrastructure and staffing improvements to accommodate the expected increase in customer volume while maintaining the highest level of customer service and anti-fraud security.

The benefits of this policy change include:

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. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said: “When the previous Governor changed the requirements for law-abiding immigrant citizens to obtain a driver’s license, the Assembly Majority held public hearings and urged the Pataki Administration to change the regulations. But it took a change in the administration to get where we are today. I applaud Governor Spitzer for his actions. To deny law-abiding immigrant New Yorkers access to a driver’s license and make it more difficult for hardworking families to get to work, the hospital or even get their children to school is to admit that terrorism has won.”

Senate Minority Leader Malcolm A. Smith said: “I am pleased to endorse this very fair and reasonable change in policy by the Spitzer administration. This change will enhance public safety while allowing driver licenses to be granted to those able to meet reasonable standards of proof of identity.”

State Police Acting Superintendent Preston Felton said: “DMV’s new steps to increase security and validate identification will reduce fraud and increase safety. Ensuring more of our drivers are properly licensed and qualified to drive results in safer streets.”

State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo said: “Now, people with insurance pay the costs when people without insurance have accidents. That’s not right. Experience in other states makes it clear that when drivers have licenses, they are much more likely to buy insurance. We project that this program will substantially cut the cost of uninsured drivers and that means millions of dollars in savings on auto insurance.”

Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Balboni said: “We have been meticulous in ensuring that this change in policy, and the new security measures we are putting in place, strengthen our homeland security efforts by licensing a population of New Yorkers who previously had no public records.”

Margaret Stock, an immigration and national security law expert who is an Attorney and Lieutenant Colonel in the Military Police, US Army Reserve, is currently assigned as a part-time Associate Professor at the US Military Academy at West Point. Ms. Stock, who is also chair of the International Security Affairs Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, said: “New York State’s new policy will enhance the security of New Yorkers and all Americans. Granting driver licenses to all residents of a state who can prove their identity allows law enforcement officials to find persons who may be security threats, and gives law enforcement officials more tools to prevent and solve crimes.”

President of the New York State AFL-CIO Denis Hughes said: “We applaud Governor Spitzer for his actions today. Equal access to a driver's license, regardless of immigration status, is essential to the public safety and well-being of all New Yorkers.”

Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Co-Founder of the New York Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights to Driver’s Licenses said: “Our state’s new driver’s license policy is a win-win for immigrants and for all New Yorkers. Not only does it enable more New Yorkers to get licensed and insured, making our roads much safer, but it’s going to make our licensing system far more secure and immune to fraud. We applaud the Governor for developing a smart and fair solution that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.”

Amy Sugimori, co-chair of the New York Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights to Driver’s Licenses said: “Today’s announcement is 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.”

State law requires license applicants to prove their identity, date of birth and fitness to drive, and to provide a social security number (SSN). The SSN requirement was added in 1995 as part of an effort to punish parents who were not paying child support. In 2002, a state regulation was adopted to allow applicants who are ineligible for a SSN to also apply for driver licenses. Following this step, the DMV then issued an administrative policy that effectively made it impossible for illegal immigrants to obtain driver licenses by stipulating that the only way to define “ineligibility” would be through obtaining a formal letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration, a letter that is only obtainable by individuals who have legal immigration status.

It is this last administrative policy that the DMV is changing. Starting in the phases discussed above, license applicants will check a box on the license application that states that the applicant is not eligible to receive a social security number. Instead of presenting a SSN or a letter of ineligibility, individuals instead will provide a current foreign passport and other valid and verifiable documents to prove identity. As such, the DMV will be able to achieve its primary goal in issuing licenses, which is to ensure that the initial who is receiving the license is not misrepresenting themselves to obtain a fraudulent identity card, and controlling who has access to driving motor vehicles

The DMV’s new anti-fraud measures will make the current system even more secure in a number of ways. It will utilize new state-of-the-art document verification technology, including photograph comparison tools and specially-trained staff with expertise in foreign-sourced identity documents, and a proposal to implement a residency requirement for all state license holders.

There will be no increase to the current license fee as a result of these changes.

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