EH Town Board Supports Immigrant Drivers

T. E. McMorrow
Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, author of a measure memorializing East Hampton Town Board’s support for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, is shown here at a recent OLA event in support of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, sponsored by Fred Thiele.

Though it stopped short of supporting the specific law now before the New York State Legislature, the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Fred Thiele, the East Hampton Town Board voted to memorialize its support of the principles behind the bill May 16.

The town document, crafted by Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, calls on the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to “provide undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status, provided that they can qualify as a safe and responsible operator of a motor vehicle.”

The measure cited various studies showing that allowing undocumented residents the ability to obtain a license following the same procedures as those who currently hold licenses in New York would make the roads safer.

For example, a 2011 nationwide report from the American Automobile Association Foundation found that unlicensed drivers were five times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than licensed drivers.

The memorializing measure cites statistics from states that already have agreed to allow undocumented residents to obtain licenses have experienced “a decrease in traffic related fatalities, hit and run accidents, and the percentage of uninsured motorists.”

Burke-Gonzalez also wrote, that on the East End: “undocumented immigrants need to drive to work, to take their children to school, to travel to medical appointments, or for other important appointments.”

There are currently 725,000 undocumented residents in New York State, the measure reads, citing numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center.

“It is a step in the right direction,” Minerva Perez, head of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, said Saturday of the East Hampton Town Board action. She is hoping that the Southampton Town Board will follow suit, or, perhaps, even go further, and memorialize an actual endorsement of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act.

The act, co-sponsored by Thiele, would allow those who can prove residency in the state, no matter what their citizenship status in the country, to take both the written test and the road test to be granted a license. The act is currently in committee in both the New York State Assembly and Senate.

Twelve states, along with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, now have such laws on their books.

Burke-Gonzalez was out sick the night of the town board meeting. The measure was introduced, in her stead, by Councilman David Lys.

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