Clerks ask Trump to quash immigrant licenses

Sinnott-Gardner

ALBANY — The Trump administration is being urged by a group of New York county clerks to review the legality of a controversial new state law that makes undocumented immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses.

Representing 32 clerks from counties that operate motor vehicles bureaus, Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner told President Donald Trump in a letter released Thursday, June 27, that the law could create a conflict for clerks sworn to uphold both the state and federal constitutions.

“I believe this law circumvents federal immigration laws and should be reviewed at the highest levels of government to determine unilaterally whether this legislation is indeed constitutional,” Hayner said.

Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner is among the clerks opposing the so-called “Green Light” statute.

Supporters of the law predicted it will withstand judicial scrutiny.

“It’s sad to see a small number of public officials trying to scare people with lies about this common-sense new law,” said Natalia Aristizabal, the co-director of organizing for Make the Road New York, an advocacy group.

Aristizabal said the legislation will help keep immigrant families intact while benefiting public safety. There has been anecdotal information that there have been fewer crashes involving motorists who take off after causing damage to other vehicles in states that have extended license eligibility to people in the country illegally.

Hayner, in his letter to Trump, suggested that the request for a legal review be forwarded to the U.S. Justice Department.

While several other states allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, Hayner said their procedures are “materially different” than the mechanism New York would set up when the new law takes effect Dec. 14.

The New York law, Hayner noted, requires that licenses for undocumented immigrants be “visually identical” to federally-compliant licenses, though they must be stamped: “not for federal purposes.”

Sought for more than a decade by advocates for immigrants, the law also prohibits the disclosure of information from the motor vehicle data base to federal law enforcement authorities.

Statewide polling showed that the license initiative was unpopular with 55 percent of New York voters.

Though he favored the initiative, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said the law could have unintended consequences if immigration investigators go to court to access motor vehicle data.

“What happens when the federal government sends a subpoena and says give us the information?” Cuomo asked last week. “Do you now inadvertently turn over a database that the federal government can use for deportation, God forbid?”

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.