Permits soar in NY as undocumented immigrants get driving rights – News – The Evening Tribune

Number of New Yorkers applying for driver’s licenses skyrocketed since a state law took effect Dec. 15 allowing undocumented immigrants to apply

ALBANY — The number of New Yorkers receiving learner permits skyrocketed since a state law took effect Dec. 15 allowing undocumented immigrants to seek driving rights, state records show.

Some Department of Motor Vehicle offices said they have been inundated with people seeking learner permits because of the new Green Light Law, creating long lines and confusion for staff.

“There are no words,” Orange County Clerk Annie Rabbitt said. “It’s chaos all day. It’s lines out the door.”

The number of permits issued soared 123% between Dec. 15, 2019, and Jan. 4 compared to the same period last year, according to records obtained by the USA TODAY Network New York from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Locally, Livingston County is up 117.2% over the same period last year, from 29 to 63. Steuben County is up 10%, from 70 to 77. Allegany County actually saw a decrease from 12.5%, from 16 to 14.

Supporters of the law said they were pleased to see the increase, saying allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses will make the roads safer and help the economy.

“We look forward to the continued success of the program, and the many benefits it brings our state,” said Eddie Taveras, the state immigration manager for, an advocacy group.

The records reflect all permits granted during the period, not just those to undocumented immigrants. The number jumped from 17,193 applications to 38,394 applications during the same period over the past two years.

So it’s unclear specifically how many immigrants have sought a permit, which they must hold on to for at least six months before taking a road test for a driver’s license.

And there is another factor at play: New Yorkers are increasingly visiting their DMV offices to get a Real ID. Beginning Oct. 1, New Yorkers will need identification that meets federal requirements to cross the U.S. border or to fly within the country.

That too has fueled more people at the DMV offices, which are either run by the state or county clerks.

Fourteen counties — including the five boroughs, the two on Long Island, Orange, Ulster, Westchester, Dutchess, Livingston and Rockland — issued double the number of learner permits from one year to the next, the records showed.

“Everyone has been very patient and good with handling the large amount of people we have in DMV both for Green Light and other business,” said Holly Tanner, the clerk in Columbia County, which had the largest percentage increase —304% — of permits issued in the state.

DMV offices dealing with influx of permit seekers under Green Light Law

State and local officials said the new law that made New York the 13th state to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses is a major reason for the spike in applications.

“We took significant steps to prepare for the unprecedented crowds we are now seeing at our offices and we continue to make adjustments,” said state DMV spokeswoman Lisa Koumjian.

“Last week, we began deploying additional staff to help with communication and customer service and saw an immediate impact.”

She said the extra help has alleviated some of the long lines, and the state has implemented Saturday appointments at its busiest locations in New York City, Long Island and at its branch in West Haverstraw, Rockland County.

She said the state hired 300 employees to handle the influx and reconfigured office space to help process applications.

“We continue to direct customers to use our in-office kiosks or our website for any transaction that can be completed online. We encourage customers, especially those needing a permit test, to make a reservation, which they can do on our website at:,” Koumjian said in a statement.

Advocacy groups estimated 882,000 New Yorkers over age 16 without legal presence in the U.S. may now be eligible for licenses.

Taveras said New York’s increase in staffing and the work of community groups have helped local offices implement the law.

“We are pleased that New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, have been able to take advantage of the recently implemented Green Light Law,” Taveras said in a statement.

“The increase of standard driver’s licenses issued will benefit our state through increased state revenue in the form of additional taxes and fees, an economic boost through the purchase of car insurance and decreased premiums, and it makes New York roads safer for everyone.”

What’s next for processing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York

Supporters of the law said it will make the roads safer by requiring undocumented drivers to pass driving tests and get automobile insurance.

A potential driver still needs to pass a written exam to get a learner permit; then pass a road test at least six months later to drive alone.

County clerks continue to rip the law, and some of they are still trying to get it tossed — but so far the courts have ruled against them.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola this week appealed his case after it was rejected in the lower court. He said he fears people are passing off phony documents and may use their driver’s licenses to vote or board planes.

State officials have stressed that the licenses cannot be used to vote or used as federal identification to board a plane.

“The sad part is that we’ve never taken foreign documents before and now they’re asking clerks who had little training to stand in a window and make a determination on whether someone is valid or not,” he said.

In some counties, the increase in applications were small: up just 5% in Monroe County and actually down in 11 mainly small counties — except Erie, where the number fell 11%.

The Erie County clerk is suing over the law and has been public in his opposition.

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