New York Clerk ‘Will Not Be Granting Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants’

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
June 19, 2019USshare
New York Clerk ‘Will Not Be Granting Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants’
Cars on a road in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York, on Feb. 22, 2019. (Mimi Nguyen Ly/NTD)

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill late June 17 granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, one DMV clerk in Erie County of upstate New York said he “will not be granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

Michael Kearns, an agent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, is seeking a legal determination as to whether he could be forced to enforce New York’s new state law, which enables illegal immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses starting December.

In a letter to the Erie County Attorney’s Office on June 18, Kearns wrote, “As I understand it, this Act requires that … I will be compelled to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

“I will not be granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” he wrote.

According to The Buffalo News, Kearns hand-delivered his letter to County Attorney Michael Siragusa’s office in the morning.

The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act of 2019, also known as the “Green Light Bill,” was passed by New York’s Democratic-controlled state Senate hours prior to Cuomo’s approval on June 17. The state’s lower house approved the bill a week earlier.

Prior to signing the bill, Cuomo handed it for review to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood to ensure that the identities of illegal immigrants are protected from detection by federal immigration authorities.

Underwood’s boss, Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat, released a statement saying the bill is legally sound.

Cuomo’s move was largely symbolic; the governor has supported the proposal for years.

Kearns, however, sees New York state’s new law as being in conflict with federal law.

“After a review of the act, I am convinced that it is inconsistent with federal law,” Kearns 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.”

“As a result, I intend to file a declaratory action in the United States District Court challenging the law as applied to the Erie County Clerk, and I request your representation in this lawsuit and in supporting the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” Kearns wrote.

Siragusa responded later in the day, according to The Buffalo News, saying that his office will review Kearns’ request.

Kearns had suggested to news station WIVB that the bill may violate the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, a federal law signed by then-president Ronald Reagan, which made it illegal to knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Kearns said that he would redirect all applications from illegal immigrants to the State Department of Motor Vehicle offices instead, WKBW reported.

A recent Siena poll showed that 53 percent of voters statewide opposed the Green Light law, while 41 percent showed support for it.

Six Democrats from competitive districts in Long Island opposed the measure, fearing backlash from a district dealing with the violent MS-13 gang.

According to a study (pdf) by the Pew Research Center, there were an estimated 750,000 illegal aliens in New York state as of 2012.

Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California, the home to the largest number of illegal aliens in the United States, enacted the law in 2013. More than 1 million illegal aliens have received driver’s licenses there since the law took effect in 2015, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Democrats supporting the measure say that that illegal immigrants learn to drive, and get tested and insured as a result, adding to overall road safety for all. Republicans argue that the move legitimizes illegal immigration and may allow illegal aliens to register to vote.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.

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