Erie County clerk, comptroller oppose driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

May 30, 2019

Two Erie County elected officials say they are concerned about the possible negative consequences of allowing undocument immigrants to obtain a driver's license in New York.

The bill, being debated in Albany, has the support of top Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Wednesday, the state's Business Council came out in support of the idea, saying the proposal would boost the New York's economy and help businesses that employ immigrants.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and clerk Michael Kearns signed letters address to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to reject allowing New York driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Credit Thomas O'Neil-White/WBFO News

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns and comptroller Stefan Mychajliw are joining forces to oppose the measure. Kearns has asked Mychajliw to compile a report outlining the possible adverse effects that could come from the bill's passage.

Many Republican lawmakers say they oppose the issue. Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats. Mychajliw is a Republican and Kearns is a registered Democrat, though he ran for clerk on the Republican line.

At a news conference Thursday, Mychajliw said state leaders are acting "recklessly and irresponsibly."

"It really does open up a Pandora's Box, as far as the clerk's office is concerned, from a fiscal perspective. The Erie County clerk may have to hire more workers. He may have to pay more for overtime. He may have to hire interpreters. There may be a cost for security," Mychajliw said.

Kearns, a former assemblyman, agreed, saying the bill could lead to greater costs for his department, which could then be passed along to taxpayers.

"The taxpayers need to know to reach out to their legislators that there will be an unintended consequence. Their tax bills may go up," Kearns said. "We're giving you this final warning. I don't want to hear any legislators say, 'I didn't know. I didn't hear about that.' They're going to hear about it now."

Mychajliw said there are also thorny issues that could come up for law enforcement and boards of elections. Both he and Kearns have sent a letter to the governor asking him to veto any such bill.

"For law enforcement, what's going to happen if potential refugees from Canada flood our border or illegal immigrants from across the country come in to New York state? It is quite scary once you have that breeder document of a driver's licence what you could then obtain," Mychajliw said, citing a hunting license as an example.

Kearns said his office is already facing pressure in preparing for the implementation of REAL ID in October 2020. The identification will be required for anyone boarding a domestic flight or entering a federal building if a person does not already have a passport or enhanced driver's licence.

The clerk noted he has to present a preliminary budget by August 1 and the license issue will have a significant impact on his department's expenses.

WBFO's Thomas O'Neil-White contributed to this report.