Posted on January 21, 2020 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Catholic Charities Hotline Helps Undocumented Immigrants with DMV Questions

By Alice Garbarini Hurley

Now that the Green Light Law officially took effect across New York State on December 16, 2019, Catholic Charities has stepped in to help smooth the road so undocumented immigrants can get their drivers’ permits and licenses without red tape and delay.

According to, “the law allows all New Yorkers age 16 and older to apply for a standard, not for federal purpose, non-commercial driver license or learner permit regardless of their citizenship or lawful status in the United States.”

The legislation met resistance earlier this winter from some county clerks in conservative areas of upstate New York, the New York Times reported. To ease the transition for illegal immigrants and put them safely in the driver’s seat, the Immigrant & Refugee Services Office of Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York, held a phone bank at its Maiden Lane location on Tuesday, January 7, from 5 to 7 pm. Fourteen phone lines were open and in the two-hour block, volunteers helped over 250 people.

The phone bank was operated in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and televised by New York City-based Univision, the largest provider of Spanish-language content in the United States.

Collectively, the volunteers spoke Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese and Wolof—and all had access to LanguageLine Solutions, to assist callers in over 200 languages.


“Some of our tougher challenges were from callers who were illiterate but wanted to know how they could prepare for the written test,” said Lucia Goyen, immigration attorney and Community Engagement Manager at the Catholic Charities office. “Others had past DUI or ticket issues and we referred them to ONA (state Office for New Americans) for legal assistance.” Callers also inquired about documents needed and transferring licenses from other states.

“If they had legal concerns that could affect their eligibility or safety when seeking a license, our volunteers took down a first name and phone number to refer the caller to ONA and criminal/immigration attorneys,” Goyen added. Volunteers also walked callers through the process, from permit test to road test.

“The phone bank was essential. So much misinformation is circulating about how to get a driver’s license,” said Goyen. “There’s a great deal of fear in the community and having a secure line for people to call and get accurate answers was extremely important.”

The Immigrant & Refugee Services Office of Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York

When the legislation was first approved in June 2019, Goyen said it meant that “all parents, families and workers who are newcomers and who contribute time, energy, faith and skills to their communities will no longer need to be in fear of being separated from their loved ones, or face deportation, due to a simple traffic stop.”

“Catholic Charities supports this important legislation. We know firsthand about the countless families throughout the Archdiocese that can now feel safer in today’s difficult environment for immigrants,” she added. The bill makes headway for immigrants to feel more welcome in New York, Goyen said, and “will prove to them what they already know- that they, too, are New Yorkers."


Undocumented immigrants can visit the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website for facts about fees, required documents and more. A Social Security number/card is not required, but applicants must sign an affidavit (sworn statement) of never having been issued a Social Security Number. The form is available on the website for printing in seven languages in addition to English.

All applicants, undocumented or not, need to pass a knowledge test to get a driver’s permit and then a road test to be issued a license. The Green Light Law does not grant U.S. citizenship. It relates only to driving privileges in the state.  According to the DMV, language assistance will be provided in its offices for people with limited English proficiency. The fees to apply for a driver license or permit can be paid by cash, check or credit/debit card.

Formally known as The Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, the Green Light Law is now on the books in 15 states--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington—plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

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