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Queens immigrants demand DMV licenses

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"We workers - we need license. I need license," said the 40-year-old former produce deliveryman. "I need to work. I need more money."Furious at Gov. George Pataki and the state Department of Motor Vehicles, he joined hundreds of protesters in a march through Jackson Heights Saturday decrying a crackdown on driving privileges for undocumented immigrants during which the licenses of 5,700 New Yorkers have been suspended.Demonstrators slowed midday traffic along two dozen blocks of 37th Avenue, blowing horns and waving placards that read "Stop pushing immigrant workers underground.""Immigrants are under attack," they chanted. "What do we do? Fight back!" A State Supreme Court judge ordered the DMV Feb. 18 to stop using Social Security cards as a requirement for licenses, but protesters said they feared the governor would appeal the decision. On Feb. 10 the House voted 261-161 to make states verify that driver's license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. The bill has yet to pass the Senate. "We're here to send a very strong message to Gov. Pataki: it's dead wrong," said City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing). "All the DMV is doing is putting the public in large at danger" by forcing some immigrants to drive illegally, he said.Ju Bum Cha, program coordinator for the Young Korean American Service and Education Center, said the state is hurting honest people who need to drive for a living. "What are they attacking? Simple immigrants," Cha said. "It's a little bit of discrimination simply because they're attacking our immigrants."A recent city Planning Department report showed that immigrants are an integral part city's economy, comprising for 43 percent of the entire work force and holding the majority of jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, wholesale, retail and service. "This move is really hurting families and hurting hardworking people in our city," said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights). He said immigrants are "really the lifeblood of the city."An attack on them is an attack on the city's economy, some protesters said. Jim Perlstein, a member of the professional staff congress for City University of New York, said that immigrants and their children account for nearly half of CUNY enrollment. The crackdown might keep some students from going to college, he said. CUNY already has a hard time filling graduate student slots because of foreigners' difficulties obtaining visas. Kevin Fitzpatrick, of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said the crackdown could hurt his industry."You know, it's good for the city to give them licenses," Fitzpatrick said. "A lot of them are going to drive anyway. All of this is just labor control." Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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