PRLDEF Calls on Gov. Spitzer to Overturn DMV Rules Denying Driver’s Licenses

June 8, 2007
Contact: John Garcia, PRLDEF, (212) 739-7513

PRLDEF is calling on Gov. Eliot Spitzer to allow immigrants who can’t prove residency to get drivers’ licenses, now that a state court ruled that New York officials have the right to deny them licenses.

The governor has said he would change the rule because it didn’t provide security and instead keeps immigrants from rising from the “shadows.” PRLDEF sued the previous administration arguing that the DMV couldn’t enforce immigration law. In 2005, a judge in Manhattan ruled in our client’s favor, but an appellate court overturned the ruling. The state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling on Thursday.

“This decision underscores the desperate need for Governor Spitzer to allow the hundreds of thousands of New York State residents who lack lawful status to obtain a license,” said PRLDEF Senior Attorney, Foster Maer. “We think that Justice Ciparick and Chief Justice Kaye got it right in their dissent. DMV’s imposition of lawful immigration status as a precondition to get a driver license was not authorized by statute and the secret manner DMV imposed it violated the requirements of open governance,”

PRLDEF brought the suit on behalf of several clients who claimed they had been injured by the policies and practices of the DMV. The case has been awaited not only by the immigrants, but also by thousands of employers in the metropolitan region who count on them as nannies, taxi drivers, construction workers and in a host of other occupations.

The state had argued that proof of "legal presence" in the United States was a valid and reasonable requirement. But then Acting State Supreme Court Judge Karen S. Smith granted PRLDEF an injunction ruling that the DMV should not be in the business of checking the immigration status of those applying for drivers’ licenses.

An appellate court later overturned her ruling. PRLDEF and the other lawyers have not decided whether to continue the case. Gov. Spitzer could end it by rescinding the DMV policy.

““We are reviewing the decision and will decide shortly whether to ask for reargument,” Maer said.

Among the plaintiffs in the case were a 60-year-old asbestos remover who worked on the World Trade Center cleanup, a teenage refugee from Albania and an Irish man who needs to drive his American-born infant daughter to get medical treatment for seizures.

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