·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Erie County Clerk Sues New York for Giving Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

— July 10, 2019

County clerk Michael Kearns says the Green Light Law is unconstitutional.

An Erie County clerk is challenging New York’s decision to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

According to Fox News, the suit was filed by Michael Kearns, a county clerk in upstate New York. Kearns hopes that his complaint will force an injunction against the law, which was signed into effect by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.

Speaking to Fox & Friends, Kearns framed New York’s new rule as a constitutional dilemma—and one which could jeopardize Erie County’s finances.

“It’s definitely unconstitutional and it puts the county clerks in New York state in a terrible position,” Kearns said. “We risk prosecution under federal law because it’s a crime to conceal, harbor or shield an illegal alien.”

Kearns continued, framing himself as an outspoken patriot.

“I took an oath of office to uphold the state constitution and the constitution of the United States,” he said, “so we do believe it’s a violation of the federal law.”

Kearns, adds Fox, was quick in refusing to abide by the law. He sent a letter to Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa as soon as Cuomo approved the legislation, writing, “I will not be granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

The Wall Street Journal notes that Kearns, while a registered Democrat, has also run for office as a Republican.

Until his suit’s resolved, Kearns won’t issue licenses to anyone without a social security number.

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

Proponents of the “Green Light Law” say that, among other things, it’ll encourage undocumented motorists to purchase car insurance. Image via MaxPixel. Public domain.

Supporters of the law, writes the Wall Street Journal, extol the benefits of permitting undocumented aliens driving privileges. Along with letting them travel to and from work, they’d receive the same training as anyone else obtaining a license in the United States.

Furthermore, being able to drive legally would provide an incentive for migrants—no matter their background—to purchase motor vehicle insurance.

Republicans, on the other hand, have taken the law to task for not being “fair.” They claim giving licenses to unauthorized immigrants serves as a “reward” for entering the country illegally.

Cuomo himself said he expected a legal challenge. It’s not without precedent, either—a similar proposal was suggested by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The announcement was quickly resisted by another county clerk, who dropped his lawsuit after Spitzer reversed his position.

But Cuomo has also admitted that the so-called “Green Light Law” is problematic—not because of its conflicts with federal law, but because federal immigration authorities could use state I.D. databases to track down and deport undocumented drivers.

“If the federal government sues for access to the database, or the FBI sues for access, or the Department of Justice sues for access and wins, that would be a different situation,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “That’s the question I posed to the Solicitor General and the Attorney General: Will we win?

“You can’t be unwittingly subjecting yourself to federal deportation,” Cuomo added.

However, Kearns’ suit was been predictably lambasted as a partisan endeavor.

New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Steve Choi claims Kearns’ complaint wastes taxpayer money. While Kearns argues that the law is unconstitutional, a dozen other states have managed the same policy without repercussion or successful challenge.

“We cannot allow county clerks to put the politics of fear ahead of their responsibility to uphold the law,” Choi said in a statement.


County clerk sues Cuomo over illegal immigrants driver’s license law

New York county clerk files lawsuit challenging law granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses

New York Clerk Sues Over Law Granting Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

Join the conversation!