27 county clerks push to stall driver license change

A standard New York driver’s license, like those that will be given to residents whose U.S. immigration status is not legal, says “not for federal purposes” on the top right. (Provided image — New York State Department of Motor Vehicles)

Essex County’s Joseph Provoncha and Franklin County’s Kip Cassavaw have joined 25 other county clerks in calling for New York’s so-called “Green Light” law to be delayed.

County clerks from around the state released a joint statement Friday addressed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder, calling for the law, which is slated to take effect Monday, to be put on hold until Oct. 1, 2020.

The Green Light law would allow those who immigrated here illegally the ability to apply for a driver’s license. The measure was adopted by the state Legislature in June, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law shortly afterward, prompting immediate opposition from county clerks around the state and multiple lawsuits.

One of those lawsuits, brought forward by Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, was dismissed by a federal judge Friday. A second, from Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns, was dismissed in November.

State Attorney General Letitia James, in a statement Friday, characterized the clerks’ lawsuits as “meritless claims.”

“The Green Light law is legal and enforceable,” James said, “and two separate federal courts have now already dismissed the meritless claims of two county clerks. Beginning Monday, the law will help make our roads safer, our economy stronger, and will allow immigrants to come out of the shadows to sign up as legal drivers in our state. We expect all public officials to comply with the law, and, as the state’s attorney and chief law enforcement officer, I will continue to vigorously defend it.”

Clerks argue ‘unacceptable security risks’

In a statement, county clerks argued the law would place an undue burden on their motor vehicle departments to verify the validity of foreign documents and would create “unacceptable security risks.” These concerns echo those raised by the state Association of County Clerks in June, following the state Legislature’s passing of the Green Light bill.

“New York State DMV failed to provide regulations that would ensure the integrity of the identification process for standard driver license applicants,” the statement reads. “The state DMV has failed to put in place safeguards to prevent someone who has a social security number from signing the affidavit forms claiming they’ve never been issued a social security number, enabling people to conceal their true identities … The state DMV has also failed to apply standards to the translation certification process, allowing anyone regardless of their age or language proficiency to certify a document’s correct translation without any proof of such.

“Because of these lax regulations, implementation of the state law at this time would create unacceptable security risks as the loopholes allow for nefarious people to obtain New York State standard drivers licenses and use it to commit bank fraud, identity theft, credit card fraud, human trafficking and other criminal activities.”

The clerks also said their staff have not been provided with adequate training to process foreign documents the immigrants might present to them.

The clerks asked Cuomo and Schroeder to delay the implementation of the Green Light law until the federal REAL ID Act goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2020. If the state law goes into effect before the federal law, which is designed to increase security standards for driver’s licenses and other identity documents, the clerks argue “nefarious people” would exploit the new law and use their new licenses to “board an airplane, enter secure federal buildings, enter military bases or enter nuclear sites for malicious reasons for nine months until the REAL ID Act takes effect.”

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, added to the chorus of opposition to the Green Light law Friday, calling it “unconstitutional.”

She took issue with a specific provision in the law that, unless there’s a court order or a warrant, prohibits the state DMV from sharing data, such as photos, with any local, state or federal agency that primarily enforces immigration laws. In a statement, the North Country congresswoman said that provision safeguarding state records from federal agencies was “another reckless decision from Governor Cuomo’s administration.”

“Revoking federal law enforcement’s access to state records is an unconscionable action that will have grave consequences for our immigration system and country as a whole, and will keep our border patrol from being able to effectively do their jobs,” Stefanik said. “Border agents being unable to confirm someone’s immigration status is a national security risk. I urge Governor Cuomo to immediately reverse this action and reinstate federal law enforcement’s access to state records for the good of our country.”

Asked about Stefanik’s statement and the clerks’ concerns, Cuomo’s office deferred comment to the attorney general’s office and the state DMV.

DMV pushes back

The state DMV pushed back against the clerks’ statement Friday, saying the law’s implementation date is out of their control, and that resources to ease the processing of documents have been made available to county DMV offices.

“The implementation date of the Green Light Law is mandated by statute, not the DMV,” said Lisa Koumjian, assistant commissioner of communications for the state DMV. “The law applies to only one license transaction and the DMV is not creating a new license or overhauling the current process. We have provided document authentication devices and resource guides to both state and county DMV staff to assist them.”

Koumjian said the document authentification machines provided to DMV offices are used nationally to authenticate both foreign and U.S. documents to prevent fraud.

“We have provided all staff with training and additional resources in order to operate these machines,” she said. “Moreover, long before the implementation of this new law, staff were offered hands-on training to detect fraudulent documents, and they will continue to follow the well-established process that exists today for reporting possible fraud. The DMV’s investigative unit will also continue to utilize its tools, such as facial recognition, to prevent fraud.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today