Push continues to give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses

Erie County Clerk reiterates refusal to give them license

Mike Baggerman
March 04, 2019 - 3:00 am

Erie County Auto Bureau in Tonawanda. July 5, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - There's been a push in New York City to give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Last month, the New York City Council approved a resolution that calls upon the state legislature to pass a law which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, regardless of their immigration status. The resolution cites that New York State is home to approximately 725,000 illegal residents based on numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center. 

A bill was introduced last month to enact the "Driver's License Access and Privacy Act" and would allow the DMV to issue driver's licenses to people who are currently ineligible to receive one due to their immigration status. In the New York State Senate it has no co-sponsors from Western New York. A similar bill in the assembly is co-sponsored by Crystal Peoples-Stokes. The bill is currently in committee.

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Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is among those vocally opposed to issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. He first voiced his stance that he will not issue licenses to illegals in May of 2018 because he said it would violate federal laws, even if it's illegal statewide.

"We won't know what the bill will look like until it comes to the floor," Kearns said about the state legislation. "That doesn't mean (the current bill) will be the final bill. I'm sure the governor will have some sort of input on this discussion. It's a very political bill."

Kearns said his office is preparing for it but that they are not ready for it. He said that if the bill is passed, illegals could have a foreign passport which could act as their identification. He noted how current people need proper identification such as an original social security card, passport, and other documentation to do "regular activities."

"The staff does not have the proper training and, after talking to ICE, they are very concerned about forgeries," Kearns said. "A license is not only a right and privilege for driving, it's also an identification document. I don't think as an agent of the state, we can properly vet. 

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, allowing undocumented immigrants to receive a driver's license could generate up to $57 million in annual state revenue. Kearns said that in Erie County alone, transactions are already up 103 percent.

"We're going to give over $8.1 million to the county," he said. "We have over $1 million surplus expected. We're just handling the enhanced driver's license. You add this into the mix, it could cause delays and we don't feel we could handle this."

New York State Senator Jim Tedisco introduced legislation which would add legal protections for county clerks who, like Kearns, refuse to grant the licenses to undocumented immigrants by preventing the governor from removing the clerks and it would also make New York pay for the legal fees associated with the removal. 

"Federal law supercedes state law," Kearns said. "When you come to this country illegally, you do not have rights. For me, as clerk, I feel as if though we turn away lawful citizens every day because they don't have proper documentation. We're going to give an exception to the rule for people who are not even citizens of this country? I think that sends a bad message to people."

If this bill passes, anyone who wants a drivers license will need to show proof of identity, age, and fitness. They can show proof using a passport or a government identification document issued in a foreign country. Any application requiring a social security number will also give the option of signing an affidavit saying the applicant was not issued one. 

Kearns said the U.S. is a country of laws in response to the claim that licenses are a "human right". 

"You can't just come to our country and become a United States citizens. It just doesn't work that way," he said. "We're the most generous country in the world. We spend billions of dollars every year giving humanitarian aid to foreign countries. We spend billions of dollars to support NATO and to protect other countries. We do a lot. We're a blessed country. For me, we're a nation of laws....I'm always going to put the Erie County residents and the taxpayers first. They're my priority."
 

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