Signs at the Otsego County Department of Motor Vehicles office in Oneonta, mentioning a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses and learning permits, were moved after criticism that they were placed next to signs bearing the phone number of a “tip line” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The signs had been moved, as of Monday, Jan. 6, following a Daily Star story about the situation on Friday, Jan. 3.

Each of the three front windows of the Oneonta DMV still had an ICE sign as of Monday afternoon. However, signs that used to be directly next to them reading “Due to the Green Light Law we are now required to have proof of residence for any original permit, license or non-driver I.D. Please see form ID44 for acceptable proofs,” were gone.

Similar signs, minus the mention of the Green Light Law, can be seen on the side and at the back of the room.

Multiple calls and an email to Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner, whose office oversees county DMV operations, weren’t returned. An Oneonta DMV employee said all questions needed to be directed to Sinnott Gardner.

Otsego County District 14 Representative Jill Basile, D-Oneonta said said she believes the ICE signs are meant to intimidate undocumented immigrants to keep them from lawfully obtaining licenses. She said she’s also seen ICE tip line signs in the Cooperstown DMV.

“If I were to put myself in those shoes, would I go into the DMV office where ICE signs were displayed?” Basile said. “That’s the question I’m asking myself.”

Basile said concerned constituents had contacted outgoing Otsego County Representative Gary Koutnik around the end of December. Koutnik forwarded those emails to Basile and Koutnik’s successor, Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, Basile said.

She said she encourages those concerned with the ICE signs at county DMVs to reach out to Sinnott Gardner.

In a Thursday, Jan. 2 email to The Daily Star, Lisa Koumjian, assistant commissioner of communications for the state DMV, denounced the placement of ICE signs in the Oneonta DMV.

“In regards to the ICE signs, Clerk Gardner’s fear-mongering ploy to keep customers she dislikes out of her offices doesn’t change her legal obligation to issue licenses and permits to eligible applicants,” Koumjian wrote. “Like all public officials, she is obligated to carry out her duties properly and fairly. As we have previously stated, if any clerk doesn’t wish to do so, they should resign their position.”

Basile said she’s emailed Sinnott Gardner stating her position on the matter. In her email, she said she questioned how long the signs have existed and what their purpose is.

Oliver, in a Friday, Jan. 3, Facebook post, said he reached out to Sinnott Gardner with his concerns about the signs as well.

The Green Light Law, which took effect Monday, Dec. 16, allows anyone of eligible age in New York state, regardless of citizenship or lawful status in the country, to apply for a driver’s license or learner permit, according to the state DMV’s website. The law doesn’t allow non-United States citizens to register to vote in the state.

Twelve states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have similar laws, according to a July 2019 statement by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

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