The first lawsuit has been filed against New York’s new law to permit undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Governor Andrew Cuomo condemned the legal proceeding but also continued to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the new law.
The lawsuit filed by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns seeks court action to prevent the state from forcing county clerks who are against the new law to issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Kearns speaking a few days before the suit was filed, said he believes the New York law is unconstitutional.
“I believe that this is a violation of federal law,” Kearns told public radio station WBFO.
In the papers filed in US District Court in Western New York, Kearns says the conflict between state law and federal law puts him in “an impossible position”.
Anu Joshi with the New York Immigration Coalition, says it’s a “frivolous lawsuit” that will ultimately fail.
“It’s just one more anti-immigrant attack,” Joshi said. “We don’t think it has any possibility of moving forward.”
She says twelve other states already allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and not a single one of those laws have been struck down in court.
Governor Cuomo, speaking Tuesday after an unrelated event at the Albany Airport, says he expected lawsuits after the measure was passed.
“It’s a political issue, and some people are polarized, ” Cuomo said. “And you are going to see it play out politically.”
Cuomo continued to question the ultimate success of the new law, saying that he is not convinced it contains enough protections to prevent the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from accessing the undocumented immigrants' personal information on the state DMV database.
“I think the federal government is going to aggressively continue. I think this is now going to play into the President’s politics,” Cuomo said. “He’s going to say ‘you have a database of undocumented people. I want access to it’”.
The governor’s comments come after a New York Times report found that ICE used facial recognition software to scan driver’s license databases in three other states, in search of undocumented immigrants.
Joshi, with the New York Immigration Coalition, says the new law includes specific protections against ICE accessing New York’s DMV database and has the “strongest privacy protections” of any law in the country.
Her group issued a strongly worded statement, saying the governor should “stop throwing cold water” on the new law, and accusing Cuomo of engaging in a “charade” to scare immigrants about the “ICE boogeyman”.
“It’s funny he would say something like that when he has the power to protect the recipients of these licenses, ” Joshi said. “We just really want the governor to do his job, and implement the law.”
The state’s Attorney General, Tish James, has also said she believes New York’s law will hold up to a court challenge and contains adequate protections against any attempts by ICE to access the DMV database. Cuomo says he hopes James is right.