ALBANY, N.Y. – New York will become the 13th state to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses after the state Senate approved the measure and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law Monday night.
Immigrants without legal status will soon be able to use foreign documents such as passports to verify their identification when they apply for driving privileges in New York under the bill, approved 33-29 by the Senate.
The vote ended months of uncertainty at the state Capitol, where Democratic lawmakers in marginal districts struggled with the controversial bill as legislative leaders weighed whether it had enough support to pass.
And it capped a whirlwind day in Albany that began with Cuomo — who had previously pledged his support for the bill — publicly suggesting he may veto it.
But Cuomo, who said he was concerned federal immigration officials could easily obtain DMV records, signed the bill hours later after Attorney General Letitia James said it provides "ample protections" for applicants.
"With that said, based on the Attorney General's representation, the Governor will sign the bill," Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David said in a statement.
The bill will take effect in 180 days.
Senate leader praises bill
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, called the bill the "right step forward for New York state."
Democrats cast all 33 votes in favor. Seven Democrats — including six from Long Island and Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury — voted against it, as did all 22 Republicans.
"By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer," Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.
The vote came less than a week after the Assembly approved the bill and six months after Democrats took control of the Senate, which Republicans had led since 2011.
Those undocumented immigrants who pass a driving test would receive a license with a stamp ensuring it can't be used for federal purposes.
Immigrant organizations and other supporters praised Senate Democrats for approving the measure while Republicans condemned them, vowing to use the issue against them at the polls next year.
Advocates have long said the bill, a version of which has been around Albany since at least 2007, would allow undocumented immigrants in rural areas to obtain the ability to drive legally. It would also allow them to get insurance and avoid the threat of deportation if they are pulled over.