"Don't Take Away Our Licenses"
From Nowy Dziennik
April 14, 2004

By Marek Tomaszewski

Pro-immigrant activists, including many Poles spoke out on Tuesday, April 14th, against New York State's new laws regarding driver license holders who do not have Social Security numbers. The protest was organized by the New York Immigrant Coalition and took place in front of the 34th Street Department of Motor Vehicles in Manhattan.

The state of New York began verifying driver licenses in March. The process involves the checking of each issued license and whether the Social Security number under a given license is real. The persons who received their licenses before Social Security numbers were required have to update the Department of Motor Vehicles with their current number. Many Polish and other immigrants possess phony SS numbers or are in the process of receiving their documents. In both cases, there is a chance that their licenses will be suspended by the state.

"That is exactly my situation," said Grzegorz Przytula, a Polish immigrant residing in Bay Ridge who was one of the speakers at the rally. The 34-year old Pole came to the U.S.A. in 1998 and got his license only a year later. "When I first applied for my license, all I had was a letter from the government saying that I hadn't yet received my Social Security number. Back then, that seemed to be enough." On March 17th, Grzegorz received a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles asking him to verify his Social Security number. He is currently being sponsored by his employers and has not yet received the necessary document. “I hope that the politicians will do something about the situation,’ Grzegorz added.

The new verification law will affect 11 million people in the state of New York.

During the protest, Margie McHugh, the director of the New York Immigration Coalition pointed out that eight states do not require a Social Security number for obtaining a driver license. The Coalition unites 150 other pro-immigrant groups and was the organizer of the demonstration. The goal of the organization is to convince New York state officials to dismiss the new law.

The initiative was already taken by two Latin- American politicians- Felix W. Ortiz and Jose R. Peralta. “I’ve already come up with a plan to battle this issue,” admitted Felix W. Ortiz, a democrat state assemblyman from the 51st district in Brooklyn. The new plan would enable the Department of Motor Vehicles to accept the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number along with the already accepted SS number. Both officials expect the debates over this issue to begin in May in Albany.

The Immigration Coalition already met with the Department of Motor Vehicles board in Albany. Mark Louis, the Coalition representative in Albany, presented Raymond Martinez, the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles, with the Coalition’s main requests. The Coalition wants legislative action against the requirement of SS numbers when applying for driver licenses. It seems that politicians and pro-immigrant groups are both heading in the same direction. According to Margie McHugh, a lot depends on Governor George Pataki and what his stand on the issue will be.

Officials at Department of Motor Vehicles offices believe that eventually they will verify every driver license. They estimate that after the process, approximately 500 thousand individuals will be left without a valid license.

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Translated from Polish by Malwina Siedlinska

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