Undocumented New Yorkers notched a historic win on Monday night as Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law restoring their right to apply for a driver’s license.
The governor’s signature came after the state Senate narrowly approved the bill, which had passed the Assembly last week, marking the latest show of force by the newly Democrat-dominated Legislature.
Cuomo injected some last-minute drama earlier in the evening when he publicly weighed a veto, expressing concerns the measure would expose license-holders to the scrutiny of federal immigration officials.
He asked for assurances from state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood that the bill was legally defensible. When her boss, state Attorney General Letitia James, declared the “legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” Cuomo gave in.
“Governor Cuomo has supported this policy for over a decade,” Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel, said in a statement. “The key to this bill is not the political intent but the legal effect. We hope the Attorney General’s assessment is correct for the safety of the thousands of undocumented individuals who are relying on her legal opinion.”
The bill passed the Senate 33 to 29, with all six Democrats from Long Island and one Hudson Valley Democrat voting against the measure, raising the political stakes for the governor.
Opponents of the bill argued it would handcuff law enforcement officials, and some county clerks have threatened not to follow the law. Supporters say the change will ultimately make roads safer, cutting down on unlicensed drivers.
The bill carries high stakes for an estimated 200,000 immigrant New Yorkers who would be eligible to apply and have been navigating life without access to state-issued identification. For them, standard interactions with law enforcement can lay down the groundwork for deportation.