green light law featured image

What Is New York’s “Green Light Law”

Legal Assistant Administrative Law, Immigration Law

On June 17, 2019, the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act was signed into law. The Green Light Law, as it is commonly referred to, meant that all residents of New York aged 16 and over, could now apply for a standard, non-commercial, not-for-federal-purposes driver’s license or learner’s permit – regardless of their immigration status or citizenship.

New York effectively became the thirteenth state in the nation that allows any undocumented immigrant to apply for a license after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law.

What is New York’s Green Light Law all about, and what does it mean for you if you’re living in the US without legal status? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is an Undocumented Immigrant?

Here’s what we know so far. If you are an undocumented immigrant, the New York Green Light Law allows you to apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit and legally drive on any of the state’s roads. The question is – who is an undocumented immigrant?

The straightforward definition would be any foreign-born individual who does not enjoy legal status. This technically means that they do not have the right – from a legal standpoint – to be or remain in the US.

The term “undocumented immigrant” means the same thing as “illegal alien,” although the latter has a negative connotation to it. The immigration law, however, doesn’t refer to these individuals by the derogatory term. Instead, it uses the more widely accepted “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant.”

According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are over 12 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the US. Contrary to popular belief, not all of them gained access to the country by sneaking across the borders.

A large number of them initially entered the US legally as tourists, or some other type of temporary non-immigrant visa, but failed to leave once their time in the country was up.

Keep in mind that there are also the individuals who might be considered undocumented, but have what would technically amount to a right to be in the country.

The perfect example of this are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution by their home governments. Most of these individuals are not aware of the fact that they can apply for various forms of immigration relief – including Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or asylum.

cars at traffic signal image

What Rights Do Unauthorized Immigrants Have?

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

Nonetheless, under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, every single person living in the country – including a non-citizen – is entitled to equal protection under the law. It means that no individual should be deprived of their right to life, property, or liberty without following the due process of the law.

Despite this fact, driving privileges in the majority of states across the country remain a prized reserve of the country’s citizens, or at the very least, individuals who have legal status. For the now 13 states that do issue a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants, the idea behind such legislation is that the roads are safer if everyone on them has passed a driver’s test.

You might ask – Can undocumented immigrants vote? The answer is: No.

If you are an unauthorized immigrant, you will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections slated for later in the year. Non-citizens, including those who have permanent residency status, are not authorized to vote in local, state, or federal elections.

Can Immigration Agencies Use DMV Data to Get You Deported?

The short answer is – no, they can’t. You can apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit without running the risk of imminent deportation by the immigration authorities. So, if that’s a fear that’s been holding you back, well, you can rest easy knowing that won’t happen.

The New York Green Light Law has a provision that bars federal immigration and border agencies from accessing the New York DMV database. This means that they won’t be able to pull up records on a vehicle owner to determine whether or not they have a criminal history or outstanding warrant for their arrest.

immigrant passport image

The law also prohibits the state’s DMV workers from divulging any of its data to immigration enforcement agencies, unless a judge orders it.

Some of the federal agencies that have been completely cut off from accessing the New York DMV database include the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which monitors the US-Canada border in the state.

Green Light Law Requirements

First off, you’ll need to provide different documents that prove you are who you say you are. They should have your name, your date of birth, and prove that you are a resident of New York.

You’ll also need to sign an affidavit stating that you have never been issued with a social security card before you can apply for a standard driver’s license. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a social security number to get a license.

Here’s a list of the additional documents you’ll need to present before you can apply for a driver’s license in the State of New York.

  • A Border Crossing Card
  • A court-issued name change decree
  • A foreign birth certificate
  • A foreign marriage certificate or divorce decree
  • A US Municipal ID Card with a photo
  • A valid consular identification document
  • A valid Employment Authorization Card
  • A valid foreign driver’s license that displays your photo
  • A valid foreign passport issued by the country of your citizenship
  • A valid permanent residency card

The New York Green Light Law doesn’t apply to non-driver identification cards.

Global Entry Lawsuit

In February 2020, the DHS instituted a ban on New York residents from registering or re-registering in the Trusted Traveller Programs, one of which includes Global Entry.

global entry image

The Global Entry program allows enrolled members to enjoy expedited re-entry into the US after traveling to Mexico or Canada. This was in apparent retribution due to the state’s so-called “sanctuary policies” barring the federal immigration authorities from accessing data for unauthorized immigrants in the DMV database.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers joined forces to launch a class-action lawsuit against the federal government for its apparent punitive exclusion from the Global Entry program.

In April 2020, however, the ban was lifted after New York amended the law to allow DHS to access the data of any individual looking to enroll in the Trusted Traveller Program.

Driving Privileges Don’t Equate to Citizenship

While New York’s Green Light Law was a welcome move to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a standard driver’s license or learner’s permit, that’s all it does. You still won’t be able to get a commercial driver’s license, nor will it allow you to vote in the upcoming elections. Your undocumented status will remain as-is.

If you have any legal questions concerning immigration laws, seek out the expert counsel of an immigration attorney.