Rensselaer Co. Clerk files lawsuit over Green Light Law

July 25, 2019 09:29 AM

The Rensselaer County Clerk filed a lawsuit against the governor, the state attorney general and the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday.

Frank Merola filed the suit in United States District Court in Albany, citing the Green Light Law violates federal immigration law.

Those for the Green Light Law said it's meant to bring some 265,000 undocumented immigrants into the light, providing them with the opportunity to get a proper license and insurance.

Those against it fear it could lead to voter fraud.

“I think every American should be concerned about protecting the sanctity of the vote, either you believe in that or you don't we do,” Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin said.

Assemblyman Phil Steck (D, Colonie) said fears that licensing undocumented immigrants could allow them to register to vote are unfounded.

"That's absolutely incorrect,” Steck said.

Beginning in December, the law will allow undocumented immigrants with proof of identity from their home country to apply for licenses.

"This law says that you don't need a Social Security number to get a license,” McLaughlin said. “It is absolutely the exact opposite of what the 911 commission said to do."

Steck said filing a lawsuit isn't going to stop what's already happening.

"Well the fact is they're here they are driving, they are doing other things,” Steck said. “We need to give them incentives to have identification and to be safe drivers both in terms of the licensing and insurance."

But McLaughlin doubts that will actually happen.

“They've already shown willingness to break our laws,” McLaughlin said. “Why would we believe that they're suddenly, 265,000 of them by the way, are suddenly going to go and get insurance? That's a fallacy and it's not going to happen."

McLaughlin said he's also concerned because DMV officials can't see if someone registers to vote when applying for a license, and board of election officials don't get to see that information either.

Steck said the ID itself should clear that up.

"When the person is getting a license that says not for federal purposes that is is indicative of the fact that it doesn't permit you to register to vote,” Steck said.

McLaughlin doesn’t believe the denotation in the upper right hand corner will be enough to differentiate a citizen's license from one issued to an undocumented immigrant.

"That can be so easily overlooked that it's going to happen over and over and over again,” McLaughlin said.

The lawsuit also alleges the law restricts local governments from sharing information about immigrants with Immigration and Naturalization Service officials. Steck said that's not true.

"If someone for example fails to get a driver’s license and is stopped on the road they can be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and they can be deported,” Steck said. “So I'm not following quite frankly how this is an interference."

The lawsuit is asking for an injunction, which would allow clerks to refuse to give out the licenses until the case is heard.

"We'll see what the courts have to say,” McLaughlin said.

Steck said he doesn’t think many undocumented immigrants will actually take advantage of the new law. He believes fear will be the biggest reason why they won’t apply for licenses.

McLaughlin said Judge Gary Sharpe has been assigned to the case.

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 13 for updates.


Emily Burkhard

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