Supervisor Tara Gaston Abstains On Immigration Vote

 

Recently, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution opposing pending state legislation referred to as “The Green Light Bill (GLB).”

The GLB would authorize issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Tara Gaston, the Democratic Supervisor representing Saratoga Springs, voted  to “abstain” on the county resolution.

As background, Supervisor Gaston sought the Working Families Party endorsement for the coming November election.   As part of the endorsement process the WFP requires candidates to fill out a questionnaire.  Question #50 asked the following:

“Lack of access to a driver’s license is the most frequent cause of immigrants being detained and torn from their families in New York State.  Do you support New York State allowing qualified drivers to obtain driver’s licenses, regardless of immigration status?”

Supervisor Gaston answered this question with a “yes.”

In an email to me she explained her vote as follows:

“I do not support discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status against otherwise qualified drivers, and believe increasing access to standard licenses will benefit public safety. However, as I said, I chose to abstain rather than vote no in deference to the concerns raised by the Clerk and Sheriff, including regarding the ability of law enforcement to access information as needed during a lawful traffic stop due to privacy changes in the bill; these were concerns I could not refute at the time. “

It had been my hope that Supervisor Gaston would have not only opposed the county resolution but would have taken on the role of advocate on behalf of undocumented immigrants in this matter.

While I am disappointed regarding her role in this vote, I continue to believe that she most closely represents my values at the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and I plan to vote for her in November.

Recently there have been a number of articles and letters to the editor in the local papers opposing the Green Light Bill.  The New York State Senator representing Saratoga Springs, Daphne Jprdam, along with the Saratoga County and Rensselaer County sheriffs and county clerks have written about objections in an op-ed piece in the Saratogian: https://www.saratogian.com/news/local-news/reader-s-view-facts-justify-green-light-driver-s-licenses/article_d63b28a5-e721-5e69-9630-e80428dfcd93.html


In response Terence Diggory of the organization called the Saratoga Immigration Coalition along with Julina Guo wrote an opinion piece that has appeared in both the Saratogian and Troy Record.  It is a thoughtful piece that addresses the major criticisms of the Green Light Bill offered by the critics cited above.

Dr. Terence Diggory is a retired professor of English Literature at Skidmore College and holds a doctorate from Oxford University.  Julina Guo is an alumna of Harvard Law School. Julina was previously an agency attorney with the NYC Commission On Human Rights and an immigration attorney at Sanctuary for Families.

Here is their piece:

“Reader’s View: Facts Justify Green Light Driver’s Licenses” by Terry Diggory and Julina Guo

The New York State legislature may soon vote on a “Green Light” bill that would make undocumented immigrants eligible to apply for driver’s licenses.  This bill has the potential to benefit everyone in New York State.  Unfortunately, the issue of immigration has become so mired in partisan politics that it is often difficult to get a clear view of the facts.  

A recent “Reader’s View” column in the Saratogian (April 21) by the clerks and sheriffs of Saratoga and Rensselaer counties—we’ll call them The Opponents for short–seriously distorts the facts.  We would like to correct the record so that members of the public will be in a position to make up their own minds about the benefits of the Green Light bill.

Traffic Safety: First and most importantly, the Green Light bill will make our roads safer. The Opponents would have you believe that providing a path for all drivers to be properly licensed, informed of traffic laws, pass a driving test, and operate a registered, inspected, and insured vehicle is somehow more dangerous than our present situation.  

The Opponents cite statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing increases in traffic fatalities for certain years in states that already have an equivalent of Green Light driver’s licenses.  However, they fail to show a link between such licenses and the rate of traffic fatalities.  Why?  Because there is no evidence of such a link, as a 2017 study of California by Stanford University researchers has demonstrated (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A wide variety of factors influences traffic fatalities, and the rates by state vary considerably from one year to the next.  The Opponents are proud to cite the 10% decrease in traffic fatalities in New York in 2016. But they do not mention the fact that in 2017 California, a state with Green Light-type licenses, outpaced New York in the reduction of traffic fatalities, with a reduction of 6% as opposed to 4%.  In view of the complexities, supporters of Green Light legislation do not claim that it will increase traffic safety in absolute terms but just that more qualified drivers will be on the road than is currently the case.  

Access to Records: The Opponents protest the restrictions placed by the Green Light bill on access to certain records by any law enforcement agency, not just immigration officials.  But in fact the bill focuses on the type of records restricted, rather than on who may have access. 

Records supplied by someone applying for a driver’s license are restricted (though subject to subpoena and judicial warrant), but these do not include other records, such as traffic violations, that are supplied by courts and law enforcement agencies themselves.  A police officer making a traffic stop could still check the record of violations of the individual driver in question.  But no law enforcement agency could run a “fishing expedition” over an entire database in order to search for possible immigration violations. 

Privacy provisions are not new to the Green Light NY bill. They are present in the laws of other states granting Green-Light type licenses, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.  Without such protections, undocumented immigrants would not want to apply for a driver’s license.  With such protections, many law enforcement officials see a benefit to public safety, because immigrants can be more readily identified and will be more likely to cooperate with officers.  

Among those who have voiced public support for Green Light legislation are the police chiefs of Kingston [link7], Ossining and Port Chester and the sheriffs of Albany, Tompkins, and Ulster [link8] counties.

Fraud: The Opponents argue that “without proper identification procedures in place, nefarious people, regardless of their citizenship status, could exploit the system and use the lax procedures to commit various acts of fraud.”  We agree that “nefarious people,” not “citizenship status,” pose a problem, but we do not agree with the implication that immigrants are more “nefarious” than other people.  

Those immigrants who come forward to apply for driver’s licenses are attempting to participate in the system, not exploit it.  “Lax procedures,” too, can weaken any system, but there is nothing lax about the identification procedures stipulated in the Green Light bill.  It explicitly states: “The commissioner [of Motor Vehicles] shall promulgate regulations to establish acceptable proof of age and identity for standard driver’s license and learner’s permit applicants.”  

Finance: Unlike many other bills that come before the state legislature, the Green Light bill has the potential to generate its own revenue stream, from licensing fees and taxes, rather than drawing on revenue that comes to the state from other sources.  The Fiscal Policy Institute has estimated that Green Light licensing could generate $57 million in combined annual revenue to New York State and county governments, and $26 million in one-time revenue.  

The point of this estimate is not to promise a “financial windfall,” which The Opponents dismiss as unlikely, but rather to provide some measure of the scope of the issue.  Another measure is the estimate that 800,000 New Yorkers over the age of 16 are currently barred from obtaining driver’s licenses due to their immigration status.  Releasing the economic potential of that many people by enabling them to drive to jobs, schools, and stores will directly benefit the communities in which all of us live.

Enacting the Green Light driver’s license bill will benefit immigrants and their families, many of which include children who are U.S. citizens.  The benefits to all New Yorkers include safer roads and more economically vibrant communities.  Let’s not miss out on these benefits by letting partisan rhetoric stir up fear.  To come to a reasonable conclusion, we need clear-headed analysis and a firm grasp of the facts.

Terry Diggory is a co-coordinator of the Saratoga Immigration Coalition.  Julina Guo is a staff attorney in the Immigration Law Clinic at The Justice Center at Albany Law School.

 

9 thoughts on “Supervisor Tara Gaston Abstains On Immigration Vote”

  1. I agree that I would have liked to see Ms. Gaston vote no yet I’m not familiar enough with the “Green Light Bill” to say this definitively. Can Ms. Gaston give us more insight into the section she found troubling? ” including regarding the ability of law enforcement to access information as needed during a lawful traffic stop due to privacy changes in the bill; these were concerns I could not refute at the time. “

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    1. At the time I had received comments from the Sheriff, Clerk, and other local individuals that the passage of the bills would lead to an inability of law enforcement to check driving histories, warrants, etc. of any drivers they engaged with during a lawful stop. After reviewing the bill and history, speaking to advocates on both sides, and consulting with state electeds (all of which took some time), I do not believe these concerns are warranted.

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  2. Similar versions of this bill have been introduced across the country and adopted by a number of states. The objections to it raised by our local Republican officeholders are not new. I’m surprised Ms. Gaston was not familiar with them as she apparently was familiar enough with this issue to voice support for it when she wanted the WFP endorsement. She certainly had prior notice that there would be a vote on this resolution. I’m surprised she didn’t reach out to the Saratoga Immigration Coalition with which she is certainly familiar for their expertise on understanding this GLB being considered here in NY State.

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    1. I was first notified of this issue being voted on in Saratoga County on arrival to my legislative and research committee meeting on 4/4, and the Board meeting was on 4/16. You are correct in that I could have predicted that it would come to a vote but as I do not caucus with the majority party I am often in the lurch there. That said, feeling a certain way on a particular issue is very different from voting on a particular piece of legislation – I did not, and do not, believe that access to licenses should be determined based on immigration status. However, I strongly believe it is my job as a representative to view the legislation as a whole, vote on it as a whole, and advocate for changes where appropriate prior to passage.

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  3. She has her OWN agenda and does not know the meaning of representation and would probably feel more at home in Denver.

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  4. Silly me BUT–

    Wouldn’t the issuing of a state driver’s license DOCUMENT the individual?
    Anybody else see the abject irony here?

    -JC

    Liked by 1 person

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