Some county clerks in New York said Wednesday they will defy a new state law authorizing driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns will go to federal court with his concerns that the law signed Monday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo conflicts with federal policy, the western New York clerk said.
“In the memo of the bill, they talk about the reason why they’re passing this bill is to make sure that people who are here illegally can get to and from work. It is illegal to hire people in the state of New York or anywhere that are here illegally,” he said. “There’s an inconsistency there.”
Clerks in Rensselaer, Niagara and Allegany counties are among those who have also told local media outlets they will not grant the licenses after New York this week became the 13th state to authorize them.
The law takes effect in six months.
Kearns said Buffalo-area motor vehicle offices will direct applicants believed to be in the country illegally to a state-run auto bureau in Syracuse, more than two hours away by car. He said county employees already busy with large numbers of license renewals are not trained to verify the foreign passports listed in the law as acceptable forms of identification.
“If you come in and, obviously if you’re here illegally, you’re not going to have an original Social Security card, you have to show a foreign passport,” he said.
State motor vehicle law also requires proof of residency, such as a home utility bill, to obtain a driver’s license.
Kearns acknowledged that the governor has the power to remove him from his position but said he is not alone among clerks taking a stance against the new law.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorney General Letitia James’ office also did not immediately respond to a question about other potential sanctions for clerks who do not enforce state law.
James has said her office will defend the law if it is challenged in court.
Kearns said he has asked the county attorney to seek a legal judgment from federal court defining his rights and responsibilities concerning the new law.
“I do believe we’re going to be sued either way,” he said, “whether I grant the licenses or I don’t grant the licenses.”