Erie County lawmakers back Kearns' legal challenge to Green Light law

Jun 21, 2019

The Erie County Legislature will back County Clerk Mickey Kearns in his refusal to issue driver's licenses to people in the country illegally.

The vote to back Kearns' objections to the Green Light law followed an unusually contentious legislature meeting, with several recesses and some harsh words outside of parliamentary maneuvering. It is an election year with control of the body at stake.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns says he will not issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Credit Thomas O'Neil-White / WBFO News

Kearns said he will not issue licenses in these cases, even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law and the governor said he expects a court challenge. The clerk said there are too many flaws in the process.

Legislators ordered County Attorney Michael Siragusa to defend Kearns. Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo said quick action is needed.

"We just all voted that we're opposed to the Green Light bill," Lorigo said. "Are we so opposed that we're going to support the county clerk's efforts to change the law? Are we so opposed that we're gonna support the conscious effort not to give the driver's licenses at this time? Where do we stand? Do we want to wait until the concerns that we all have are implemented?"

Legislator Kevin Hardwick said supporters of Kearns went way overboard and had to be reined in over wording in an earlier version of a resolution supporting the clerk.

"In one of the resolved clauses, it urged the county clerk not to approve licenses to anyone other than legal citizens of the United States, not residents, but citizens," Hardwick said. "This includes a whole bunch of people who are not citizens of the United States that can currently in New York State receive licenses."

That wording was changed. Legislator Edward Rath said court cases are to be expected.

"There are going to be some legal challenges that are going to be brought about for the application of the Green Light bill," Rath said, "and we also had an amendment to the resolution today, which supports our county clerk and encourages the country attorney to represent our county clerk in those lawsuits, because I believe this is illegal on many ways and it should be halted, immediately, before it's implemented in New York State."

A dozen other states have similar systems letting people in the country illegally obtain driver's licenses. New York will also require the purchase of car liability insurance.

There are a lot of questions about whether Washington will allow the licenses and questions about documentation from some other country about the license applicant.