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Court Ruling Means Illegal Immigrants Can Now Get Driver’s Licenses in New York

— December 15, 2019

The ruling tossed a Republican-led challenge on a technicality. However, another litigant complained to Fox & Friends that New York is now vulnerable to terror attacks.

From next week forward, undocumented immigrants in New York will be able to apply for and receive driver’s licenses.

The so-called Green Light Law allows aliens—regardless of immigration status—to receive licenses without a Social Security number. Applicants would only have to provide a valid form of identification, even if it was issued by a foreign country.

The law—approved by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year—will go into effect after surviving two separate but very similar attempts at litigation. The latest, filed by Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, alleged that the Green Light Law is unconstitutional. The other—lodged by an Eerie County clerk—claimed the legislation put civil servants in the precarious position of having to break federal law to uphold the state’s command.

Now unchallenged, the Green Light Law makes New York the 13th state to let illegal immigrants become licensed motorists.

Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, praised the court’s decision.

Image via Maxpixel. (CCA-BY-0.0)/public domain

“After waiting 18 years to have their right to drive restored, thanks to our legislature, New York can now officially join 12 other states in making driver’s licenses legally available to all residents,” Choi said, suggesting that the law will make New York roads safer.

As the Wall Street Journal noted last year, supports of the law—like Choi—believe licensing undocumented migrants enhances accountability. Along with being able to legally drive to and from work, migrants will be held to the same testing standards as anyone else applying for a license in New York. It may also mean that undocumented drivers will be more inclined to purchase insurance policies.

However, conservative critics have largely chastised the Green Light Law for being “unfair.” Putting aside any regard for on-the-road safety, they say licensing is a “reward” for entering the United States illegally.

And Merola—a registered Republican—offered another argument: that relaxed licensing standards could abet foreign terrorists.

In a weekend interview, Fox News spoke to Eerie County Clerk Michael Kearnes, the other Republican whose suit against the Green Light Law was dismissed. Speaking to ‘Fox & Friends,’ Kearnes too offered “terror” as a (somewhat incoherent) explanation for his resistance.

“I am now going to have to accept a report card from a foreign country and […] a foreign passport as authenticated documents. I myself as the clerk am going to have to do that,” Kearnes said. “We used to have to rely on a third party, the fed government, to do that, so they have diminished a New York driver’s license, and we are very concerned for our safety and security because western New York is a border to Canada.”

Neither Kearnes nor ‘Fox & Friends’ acknowledge that the United States has reciprocal licensing agreements with a half-dozen countries, including Canada. Furthermore, New York—along with many other states—permits foreign, short-term visitors to the U.S. unrestricted driving and rental privileges so long as they’re licensed in their country of origin.

Fox’s coverage of the suit—not surprisingly—emphasized Kearnes’ belief that the Green Light Law is part of a vast liberal conspiracy meant to give “illegals” the right to vote.

“This is all a power grab for the ballot box in New York, trying to give illegals the right to vote,” Kearnes told Fox.

Merola’s lawsuit, though, was dismissed on a technicality rather than its merits—U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe said the clerk failed to demonstrate any ‘cognizable injury.” But Sharpe refused to rule on the law’s legality, stressing his decision isn’t an affirmation of undocumented aliens’ right to drive.

“To the dissatisfaction of the parties and public-at-large, courts are at times unable to pass upon the merits of a case for one reason or another,” Sharpe wrote, adding that the dismissal “does not mean in the vernacular that the ‘law is legal.’”


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