Hundreds of undocumented Brooklynites apply for driver’s license under new law

Hundreds of Brooklynites wait on line at the Department of Motor Vehicles at Atlantic Center Mall in Fort Greene on Dec. 16.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Hundreds of Brooklynites waited in hours-long lines at the Atlantic Center Department of Motor Vehicles branch on Monday after a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses took effect over the weekend.

“This is a good move and I thank the high powers, I thank them very much for what they are doing for us,” said an undocumented Brooklynite who only gave her name as Barb T.

The so-called Green Light Law allows New Yorkers aged 16 or older to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of their citizenship status by not requiring a Social Security Number. 

Under the new standards — which took effect Saturday after months of legal challenges, and which already exists in 12 other states — applicants can receive a standard, non-federal license by providing proof of their identity with non-citizenship related documents, such as a foreign passport, foreign driver’s licenses or the municipal IDNYC card.

The permit will, however, be marked with “NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES,” and will not allow card holders to board domestic flights or enter some secure federal buildings — such as military bases — for which a so-called “REAL ID” is necessary.

Lines snaked outside the DMV offices at the Atlantic Center Mall’s sceond floor on Monday as Kings County drivers-to-be gathered to be among the first undocumented people to recive their legal driving permit — with some eager immigrants lining up before the auto bureau’s doors opened at 8:30 am. 

Barb — a Sheepshead Bay resident who moved to the US from Jamaica — said she was delighted to hear the news that the law would officially take effect,  and immediately called friends of hers who are also without a legal status.

“Oh man, I screamed last night and called my friends,’” she said. 

The law had originally passed in June, but was stalled by multiple legal challenges from county clerks upstate, who claimed it would open up a loophole for exploitation — until a federal judge rejected the most recent lawsuit Friday, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The looser requirements marks a return to pre-2001 standards, when non-citizens were permitted driver’s licenses — until then-Governor George Pataki issued an executive order directing the state to require a Social Security Number, citing public safety concerns after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

A spokeswoman for the Department said that the agency added extra staff and resources to handle the larger caseload, and several staffers helped applicants on line by making sure they had all the necessary documents on them.

“We are experiencing larger crowds today – and in preparation, the NYS DMV has added resources, like kiosks, to assist customers in the offices whose transactions can be completed online, updated our reservation system, adjusted staffing levels, and encouraged customers to use our website to prepare for their visit, which improves the wait times for everyone in the office,” said Lisa Koumjian. 

The new legislation helps many non-citizens, like one Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who said that he was forced to quit his delivery job after he lost his legal status — and therefore his driver’s license — and that getting the permit would help him find better work again to better take care of his family.

“My wife, she drives so she has a car and it’s as simple as ‘Hey, I’m tired, can you drive,’ when we go on long trips — little things like that,” said Cesar Ventura. “So it’s your daily life, not just your job.”