An upstate New York clerk is taking a stand against new legislation signed by the state’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowing undocumented migrants to apply for drivers’ licenses.
“I anticipate being sued” either way, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns said on his choice between upholding federal law or the new state measure, as he asserted in a letter Tuesday that he “will not be granting drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.”
Hours after passing in the state Senate, following its passage in the Assembly last week, the Green Light Bill was signed by Cuomo on Monday, making New York the 13th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow those who have entered and live in the U.S. illegally to obtain drivers’ licenses.
The next day, Kearns asked Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa for representation in a lawsuit over the legislation in federal court, WIVB in Buffalo reported.
“I will not be granting drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants,” Kearns stated.
Here is the letter Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns sent to Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa, asking for legal representation in a lawsuit over the state law that gives undocumented immigrants drivers’ licenses. pic.twitter.com/u1QmS4mymH
— Chris Horvatits (@ChrisHorvatits4) June 18, 2019
“After a review of the act, I am convinced that it is inconsistent with federal law,” he wrote in the letter. “More importantly, however, complying with the act puts me and other county clerks in the untenable position of having to decide whether to uphold federal law or the newly enacted state law. I anticipate being sued in either event.”
A spokesperson for Siragusa says he has received the letter, and is reviewing the request.
— Chris Horvatits (@ChrisHorvatits4) June 18, 2019
Kearns pointed out to WIVB that the new law could be a violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and hopes it can be thrown out before it can take effect in December. It those efforts fail, Kearns noted that he will not follow the law once it goes into effect, acknowledging that he could lose his job.
“He [Governor Cuomo] has the power. However through my research, working through my legal team, we have to be charged. There has to be some charges, and I get to answer those charges. It’s almost one of those things we’re preparing for. I hope it doesn’t happen,” Kearns told WIVB.
Supporters of the bill and immigrant advocates argue that the bill gives illegal immigrants access needed to live in New York, get jobs and other services, despite a recent Siena Poll cited by WIVB which concluded that 53 percent of New Yorkers were against the measure.
“The only reason to be against this all along has been xenophobia and fear,” Jennifer Connor, an organizer for the Green Light Campaign, told WIVB. “We will come after you if you don’t uphold the law because of racism and xenophobia.”
Connor estimated that about 200,000 of the 900,000 illegal immigrants in New York State will end up applying for a license. New York Immigration Coalition’s Megan Maloney de Zaldizar noted that applicants would still need to abide by the rules, even though they are breaking federal law by being in the country illegally.
“They will still have to prove their identity. They will still have to prove the reside in New York State and more importantly they will learn the rules of the road. What this does is ensures everyone who is driving on the road – know the rules of the road and has insurance,” she told WKBW-TV.
But Republican lawmakers argued that the bill effectively rewards illegal immigrants for violating the rules. Critics of the new measure also question how it will affect other issues, such as the cost of auto insurance and even voting as a driver’s license will allow the undocumented migrants to register to vote.
“There are so many flaws within this bill – there’s so many things that are going to impact law-abiding citizens and Erie County residents,” Kearns told WKBW.
“I will not do it. I’m not going to break the law,” he said.
“I can’t – in good conscience do this,” he added. “It’s more than just driving – it’s a privilege – it’s a gateway document – it’s a breeder document and I’m not going to be a part of that.”
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