NEW YORK - A New York lawmaker wants to grant many of the rights of citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants and non-citizen residents, including the right to vote in local and state elections, under a bill introduced on Monday.
The New York Is Home Act is the first bill in the United States that would provide such broad rights to non-citizens who can show they have lived and paid taxes in New York for at least three years, according to the bill's sponsor, state Senator Gustavo Rivera.
"Nearly 3 million people in the state of New York currently reside here and make New York their home, but can't fully participate in civic, political, and economic life," Rivera, a Democrat who represents the Bronx in New York City, said in a telephone interview.
He described the bill as a response to the stagnation of immigration reform efforts in the U.S. Congress.
"With failure at the national level on comprehensive immigration reform, the question we have asked is what can states do?" he said.
The bill would provide benefits to illegal immigrants and other non-citizens who could prove they have resided in New York for at least three years and have been paying taxes for as long. They would also have to take an oath to uphold the state's constitution and laws, and pledge their willingness to serve on a jury, according to the bill summary.
In return, non-citizens would receive a form of state citizenship, including access to state tuition assistance and health insurance programs, the ability to apply for driver's and professional licenses, and the right to vote in state and local elections, the summary said.
Other states have moved forward on their own with respect to tuition assistance and driver's licenses, Rivera said, but no other state has considered such a broad package for its non-citizens.
The current legislative session ends on Thursday and Rivera said that he doesn't expect the bill to pass before then. Rather, he said, he hopes the bill will start a conversation both in New York and nationally about immigration reform at the state level.