ALBANY, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — New York became the 13th state to authorize driver's licenses for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally under legislation approved by lawmakers and signed into law Monday night.
The Democrat-led state Senate voted 33-29 in favor of the bill after several hours of debate and was quickly signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. The Assembly passed the measure last week.
Supporters included the Business Council of New York State, the state's largest business organization, as well as many immigrant advocates who argued that immigrants, especially upstate, require licenses to get to work, care for their families and take care of everyday tasks.
Driver's licenses would be "a game changer," according to Jorge Garcia, an immigrant from Long island who said he needs a car to get to his job in a warehouse. He has two children, both of whom are legal residents, and worries about being deported if he is caught driving without a license.
"This means so much to us, to my family," he said through an interpreter. "We won't have that fear of facing a judge if you get a ticket."
Cuomo had long said he supported the measure but on Monday cast doubt on the bill's fate Monday, saying he was concerned that U.S. immigration officials might try to obtain state driver's license data to target immigrants for deportation. He requested a legal review by the state solicitor general, who works for Attorney General Letitia James.
Supporters of the bill had dismissed Cuomo's concerns as a red herring, and James herself quickly weighed in, though she said her office wouldn't speculate on what federal authorities might do in response.
"The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver's licenses," James wrote in a statement. "If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it."
Cuomo signed the bill later in the day.
"Gov. Cuomo has supported this policy for over a decade," Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement announcing his intentions. "The key to this bill is not the political intent but the legal effect. We hope the attorney general's assessment is correct."