Opinion: The importance of New York’s Green Light Law

Borough President Melinda Katz is the Democratic nominee for Queens district attorney. Photo courtesy of Katz’s campaign.

Borough President Melinda Katz is the Democratic nominee for Queens district attorney. Photo courtesy of Katz’s campaign.

By Melinda Katz

Special to the Eagle

New York’s Green Light law, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, will make our roads safer, help build a stronger and more inclusive economy, and bring immigrants across the state out of the shadows. Passing the law earlier this year was a tremendous victory for public safety, our economy, and immigrants throughout New York State. 

Unfortunately, this law, and similar laws that have passed in states across the country, are already under attack from Trump Republicans who would seek to circumvent the will of the people and overturn them in the courts. Queens is poised to push back and defend our rights.

Earlier this summer, opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the law, falsely arguing the law was unconstitutional and promising that he would take his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fortunately for our immigrant community, and every driver on New York roads, state Attorney General Letitia James has vowed to defend the law in court. If elected as the Queens District Attorney, I will do everything in my power to defend the law, and ensure its provisions are fully enforced throughout the borough.

Opponents of the Green Light law have used misinformation and outright lies to claim that the law will make our roads less safe. In fact, the exact opposite is true. In the other states that have recently adopted laws allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, hit-and-run incidents are down. When California adopted its law, hit-and-run incidents fell by 10% in the first year. In the last three years since the passage of similar legislation, Connecticut has seen a 20% drop. Enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses will dramatically reduce the number of New Yorkers behind the wheel who haven’t taken proper drivers education courses. It will also reduce the number of uninsured drivers on our roads. By every measure, the Green Light law is making it safer to drive in the Empire State.

The law will also provide a boost to our state’s economy, and allow the immigrant community to more fully participate in it. Studies predict that New York will reap $57 million in revenue every year from car registration sales, gas, and vehicle use taxes. That’s tens of millions of dollars that can be poured into improving the quality of the roads we drive on. The law will also bring in $26 million from one-time registrations, providing an additional boost to infrastructure investments. Immigrants will be able to travel to and from work, helping to grow the economy, earn wages to be spent at local businesses, and ultimately help create more jobs.

Our Green Light law will also help keep immigrant families together. Without a drivers license, undocumented immigrants have risked deportation every time they get behind the wheel of their car. Whether on the daily commute to a job to provide for their child’s education, or on the way to visit a loved one who is sick in the hospital, every time an undocumented immigrant turns the key without a license, they risk not being able to make it home. That’s wrong, it’s un-American, and it has kept too many immigrants living in the shadows of our society. The Green Light law gives immigrant families the peace of mind that a quick drive to the grocery store won’t shatter and dissolve the family.

I stand firmly behind Attorney General James in her fight to preserve the progress we’ve made together, and I will do everything in my power to stand up to Trump Republican extremism. We will protect this law and preserve New York values.

Melinda Katz is the Queens Borough President and the Democratic candidate for Queens District Attorney.