East Hampton Town Board Supports Issuing Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

East Hampton Town Hall.

The East Hampton Town Board formally agreed last week to support a bill in the state legislature that would again allow undocumented immigrants to obtain New York State driver’s licenses, as they were before a 2002 state directive requiring U. S. citizenship.

Councilmen Jeffrey Bragman and David Lys, along with Councilwomen Sylvia Overby, with two town board members absent, all voted on Thursday, May 16, to adopt a memorializing resolution declaring the board’s “support for residents who demonstrate they quality as a safe and responsible operator of a motor vehicle” so they can “obtain a New York State driver’s license regardless of their immigration status.”

Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez, who brought the resolution to the board, and Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc did not attend. Both have voiced support for the measure.

The town board will send a letter to state officials voicing its support for the legislation, which has been championed by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. While both the Democratic majority in the state Assembly and Senate appear poised to support the bill, its language is still being negotiated, according to Zachary Cohen, a member of East End for Opportunity, which has championed support for the law locally.

“We have had meetings with representatives from the Anti-Bias Task Fork, from OLA, with people like [town police] Chief [Michael] Sarlo, going over where people feel the law is perfectly well-written now to where it needs tweaks,” said Mr. Cohen at the May 16 board meeting. He  encouraged the board to hold a vote on the resolution, even with Ms. Burke Gonzalez and Mr. Van Scoyoc absent.

State lawmakers have moved forward with the bill, citing nationwide studies showing that unlicensed drivers are five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared to those with licenses. Since the citizenship requirement was imposed 17 years ago, studies in states that have passed similar legislation have shown that traffic-related fatalities, hit-and-run accidents and the number of uninsured motorists decreased in the dozen states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. The state expects the measure would generate over $50 million in revenue through license and registration fees.