Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the controversial Green Light NY bill on Monday, allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. The legislation divided lawmakers and created concern for some county clerks who oversee DMV operations.
Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola said he will not issue undocumented immigrants a license in his office.
“I go back to the Constitution. You’re not supposed to help or aid anybody if they’re here illegally, especially if we know that,” said Merola.
He said there will be no way to distinguish between an undocumented immigrant and an American citizen.
“There’s no right to a driver’s license. It’s a privilege. It’s not a privilege we should be giving to someone that’s here illegally,” he said. “I’m not anti-immigrant. My wife is a naturalized citizen. My son is also a police officer, so I think more of law enforcement. I’ve never heard anybody in law enforcement come out and say this is a good idea. Not at all. It puts them in a tough position. They’re at a disadvantage here. We’re going to give them a license that looks just like yours or mine. They wouldn’t even know that they’re here illegally.”
Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald admits this was not an easy decision. He said he was on the fence for quite a while and even issued a survey in his district.
“I get it. I understand it, but at the end of the day, you have to listen to the people you represent, too, and the majority of people are just not ready for it, yet,” he explained. “I don’t know how many people are really going to step up and get their licenses. My rationalization was if someone wants to become a citizen, they’re going to raise their hand and say how do I go through the process?”
McDonald ultimately voted against it as did democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.
The other major concern was the fact that all you need to register to vote in New York State is a nine digit license ID number. Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, who voted in favor, said she’s been assured they will not be valid at the polls.
“That’s one I was not concerned about. Quite frankly, if someone is worried about being arrested, the last thing they will do is show up at a voting booth,” said Fahy.
She added that it would make the roads safer because there would be less hit-and-runs.
The law is scheduled to take effect in 120 days.
Merola and Washington County Clerk Stephanie Lemery said their offices are already bombarded with people looking to apply for an enhanced license or Real ID. The state mandating that unless you have a passport you’ll need one or the other to fly anywhere come October 2020. They said the state is not taking that increased paperwork and responsibility into consideration.
“I have been here over 30 years, and this is the worst it has ever been. New York State has really not thought this idea through,” said Merola.
The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act is expected to face continued opposition and legal battles.
“I have a gut feeling this is going to run into some legal challenges, and we’re going to have to go back to revisit it. That’s just my gut,” said Assemblyman McDonald.
Twelve states and Washington, D.C. currently allow undocumented immigrants to drive.