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New bill in Assembly expands access to driver's licenses 

Access to driver's licenses has been a recent focus for immigrant rights groups in Upstate New York. The state's farms rely heavily on migrant workers, and it's often tough to find transportation in rural areas. A bill recently introduced into the New York State Assembly would make it easier for the state's undocumented residents to get driver's licenses.

The bill, A10273, would amend current laws to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to accept a passport or other ID from a foreign country as proof of identification when issuing a standard driver's license. A valid visa would not be required. The bill also, importantly, adds provisions that would protect applicants' information from unwarranted release, and prohibits DMV employees from asking about citizenship or immigration status.

Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who represents the Bronx, introduced the bill, with several Downstate Democrats and Buffalo representative Crystal Peoples-Stokes co-sponsoring it. The legislation is currently in the Assembly's Transportation Committee. The bill could likely pass in the Assembly, but chances aren't as good in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Not having a driver's license makes routine things difficult, said Ismael Castellano, a member of the farmworkers group Alianza Agricola. (Castellano spoke during a Rochester Poor People's Campaign event last week.) "We can't move ourselves around freely," he said. "We can't go buy our food, we can't go to the doctor or feel like we're part of the community."

A driver's license, Castellano said, will also help in dealing with police, preventing them from using a lack of ID as an excuse to call immigration enforcement. Members of Alianza Agricola have been heavily involved in Greenlight NY, a driver's license campaign, which held a rally last Wednesday to highlight the bill.

Twelve states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico currently have laws that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

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