A blue wave swept through the Empire State and across Capitol Hill on Election Day, leaving a reinvigorated Democratic Party in its wake. For the first time in a decade the Democrats have regained control of the New York legislature and are now poised to implement the very bills and policies that were their rallying cry to voters across the state.
At the forefront of their agenda are the rights of undocumented immigrants that the current Administration has vowed to reduce or otherwise repeal. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was reinstated on November 6th, has described New York as “The antithesis of what this President believes about immigration,” and unsurprisingly so: New York has become one of the largest sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants in the country, a fact many New Yorkers—and presently elected officials—take in stride. But more has to be done; and now, can be.
One of the most pressing matters for Democrats to attend to will be the New York State Dream Act. Not to be mistaken for the federal bill by the same name, the Dream Act aims to provide tuition assistance (TAP) to students, regardless of residency or status, by apportioning an annual $27 million from the State budget. For students who are American in every way besides the paperwork, the Dream Act will have an ameliorative effect on their ability to afford tuition and continue onto the next leg of their academic journey.
First sponsored by the late Senator José Peralta in 2013, it appears as though Cuomo finally has this bill set in his crosshairs for ratification. Speaking at the New York Bar Association earlier this month, the Governor underscored how important it is that the state “pass the Dream Act to open the door of education to all our dreamers.”
Oddly enough, New York will not be the first to pass a bill of this kind: a score of other states—including Texas—have similar legislation already in place. Over the years leading up to 2018’s blue wave phenomenon, when pressed about why New York Democrats have failed to follow suit, their reply has always come at the end of a finger pointed squarely at the Republican majority; a majority that no longer exists.
Equally pressing on not only Cuomo’s but also the Democrat’s agenda, will be the enactment of Automatic Voter Registration. Under this law states will be required to give citizens an option to register to vote when applying, or reapplying for their driver’s license. Currently, only United States citizens are legally permitted to own a driver’s license or vote, but that may soon change.
Under the roof of this bill, senators are also pushing for undocumented immigrants to be able to apply for driver’s licenses, and plan to extend voting rights to green card holders so they might vote in upcoming municipal elections.
The bills have been met with controversy in the past, especially the bill to grant driver’s licenses by Republican senators, who see it as a “backdoor maneuver” to let illegal immigrants vote. Similar to the Dream Act’s initial introduction in 2013, this bill originally tried and failed back in 2007, by then-Governor Elliot Spitzer. But now, a decade later, it appears to be on the current Governor’s radar.
Alphonso David, Cuomo’s legal counsel, revealed as much during the New York Hispanic legislators’ postelection conference, predicting the bill would be approved by New York’s legislature when the assembly resumes on January 9th of next year. Make The Road NY, which was also attending the event, soon took to Twitter to celebrate the apparent endorsement; however, a Cuomo spokesperson quickly reneged any guarantees, despite the governor’s purported goals to make the bill a reality; and he isn’t the only one eager to see the bill signed.
The bill currently has two sponsors: Assemblyman Marcos Crespo and Senator Luis Sepúlveda, who are both Bronx Democrats. If passed, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would begin issuing “standard” licenses to drivers that do no require a social security number, and would restrict what information might be retained by the DMV in an effort to protect the privacy of undocumented immigrants. So while these immigrants will still have a long path ahead of them to citizenship, the everyday stress of driving without a license can at least be alleviated.
Still, there remains the matter of green card holders: according to U.S. law any green card holder caught voting in a municipal election must immediately be deported. Of course, there are several states with their own rulings, some of which permit those with a green card to even vote without consequence. New York is not one of them, unfortunately—but perhaps, only for the time being.
Hopefully, despite the complications assimilating thousands of green card holders into the polling system entail, so long as these rights are considered abreast to the Automatic Voter Registration Act, the Democratic Party can find a way to do good on their promises to the disenfranchised.
Because the intransigence of Republicans to continuously stymie the Democrat’s more progressive bills has passed. Come January, the fate of these issues will no longer be in the hands of voters who cast their votes not so long ago, but those of the newly elected and established senators. The chief obstacle to passing these bills has been wiped out by the blue wave.
Now only one question remains: what comes next for the Democrat, and, by continuation, New York?