BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some county clerks in New York say they will defy a new state law authorizing driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns said Wednesday he’s going to federal court with his concerns that the law signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday conflicts with federal policy.
The Democrat-led state Senate voted 33-29 in favor of the bill after several hours of debate before getting sent to Gov. Cuomo.
“In a time when immigrants are being scapegoated for every ill in our country, this is our opportunity for New York state to show our courage and strength and stand up for the marginalized communities,” said Bronx Democrat Luis Sepúlveda, the Senate sponsor of the bill.
Republican lawmakers decried the bill, which they said would reward people who had violated federal immigration laws and possibly lead to voter fraud if immigrants use the licenses to try to register to vote.
“This is not about driver’s licenses this is about law and order and the United States’ right to defend the sanctity and sovereignty of our borders,” said Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. “We are watering down citizenship. We are cheapening what it means to be an American citizen.”
Kearns says Buffalo-area motor vehicle offices won’t grant driver’s licenses to those here illegally and will send applicants to a state-run auto bureau in Syracuse, more than two hours away by car.
Clerks in Rensselaer, Niagara and Allegany counties are among those who’ve also told local media outlets they will not grant licenses to people in the country illegally.
Kearns says county employees are not trained to verify the foreign passports listed in the law as acceptable forms of identification.