As State Fair Kicks Off, Upstate NY Elected Officials Support Driver’s Licenses For Immigrant Farmworkers

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Aug 21, 2018

Contact: Carly Fox, cfox@wjcny.org, (585) 500-9409

The State Fair starts tomorrow and will be a celebration of New York’s agricultural industry. However, the workers who are a key part of its success are largely invisible.  They need to have freedom of movement and protection from being put in the deportation pipeline simply because they don’t have a NYS license. The statewide coalition “Green Light Driving Together” is led by immigrant workers and advocacy organizations working together to gain limited purpose licenses for all.  Today, Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse elected officials stand together to say: It’s time for New York State to make licenses accessible to all.

Advocates across the state say that New York should join the twelve states that issue licenses to those without a social security number. “New York should resume issuing licenses, just as we did for decade until 2002.  The health of our upstate farms and cities are inseparable, and safe driving for workers, by having access to a license, would drive the health of our region.”  said Jackie Ortiz, Rochester City Council Representative.  If passed, the measure will generate $57 million dollars a year for our state’s economy.

Immigrant leaders explain that having access to licenses would curtail the pipeline to deportation for vulnerable populations in rural areas of upstate NY, where law enforcement has routinely called Border Patrol for simple traffic infractions.  “As a father raising U.S.-born children, I want them to have the same opportunities as others. If the police stop us, we might be deported just because we can’t show a license. My children are terrified every time we drive because it could mean we will be permanently separated.” says Luis Jimenez, a dairy worker and president of the Agricultural Alliance in Western NY.  “We are an integral part of the motor that drives our state’s agriculture and for us, driving is not a privilege, it is a necessity of daily life.”

License requirements can either be changed through two paths: Governor’s direct order, and through a change in the law. Assembly Bill 4050, first introduced in 2016, would make a standard license available regardless of immigration status. The bill gained momentum during the 2017-2018 legislative session, with 34 Assembly Members signed on, including Pamela Hunter, Harry Bronson, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and it was introduced in Senate as S at the end of session. Nine Senators have signed on so far.

“The New York State Fair is a place to celebrate the critical contributions of upstate farmworkers” said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “However, many farmworkers are still unable to drive to and from work, seek a doctor, and sign up for car insurance. It’s time for New York to move forward and make driver’s licenses for all a reality. It’s just common sense and an economic boon for the state,”

“On the eve of the State Fair, we are here to support the workers who support our agricultural industry by working hard for their freedom of movement” said Carly Fox, Senior Worker Rights Advocate with the Rochester Worker Justice Center. “The State Fair is a moment to celebrate the contribution of agriculture to New York State, however, for most of the workers in NY who pick our fruit and milk our cows, there are significant barriers to be able to get to the grocery store and buy food.”

The Green Light NY: Driving Together campaign seeks to ensure equal access to driver’s licenses for all residents of New York State, regardless of immigration status. Our statewide coalition brings together immigrant communities, advocates, allies and other stakeholders to coordinate a unified driver’s license campaign. Twelve states across the country have chosen safer roads and increased revenue by giving undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses. If New York does they same, it will increase revenue from licensing and other fees by $57 million annually for city and county governments statewide.

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