Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner is supporting a campaign to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a New York State driver’s license. Miner and other groups are lobbying state elected officials to sign on to the measure.
Amparo Zapata is originally from Mexico. She has a driver’s license now, but remembers a time when she was working in Syracuse as a home health aide and could not get one.
“Transportation can only get to a certain point," Zapata said. "The rest of the time I had to walk. It was kind of a hassle to get to places.”
Zapata said it could also help curb another important issue, domestic violence.
"A lot of the Latino American women are afraid to call the police," Zapata said. "I think for safety it is best if we can get some kind of help for them by giving them a chance to drive for safety, to get the police, and not be afraid of contacting them."
Nikeeta Slade, with the Workers’ Center of Central New York, said besides making it easier to get from one place to another, the Green Light NY campaign has a symbolic meaning.
“This is an important, concrete thing that we can do in our community right now to show that we support immigrants," Slade said. "We know that there is a very hostile environment, anti-immigrant, racist climate so it’s really important that the mayor is standing up here and supporting immigrants.”
To her critics that say declaring Syracuse a sanctuary city is not following the law of the land, Miner said the federal government cannot bully municipalities into enforcing federal immigration laws.
"The law of the land as we've seen in the federal courts right now is that you cannot ban people coming into this country because of their religious status," Miner said.
Miner said a driver's license will empower undocumented immigrants to work and bring people out of the shadows.
"I think it is important that there are official documents that can be used for identification purposes," Miner said. "Whether that is enrolling your child in school or being able to say to the police, this is where I live."
She said welcoming refugees is how America became a model of democracy.
“And if we turn our back on that, we turn our back on what has been arguably the strongest part of being American,” Miner said.
But in the past, even some Democrats have not supported the proposed driver's license policy change. Miner said that does not mean it will not be successful this time.