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Department of Justice considers weighing in on Green Light

A rally in support of New York’s Green Light Law. The U.S. Justice Department may intervene in challenges to the law allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses.
October 7, 2019 05:01 pm Updated: October 7, 2019 07:13 pm


The U.S. Department of Justice is considering intervening in legal challenges to the Green Light law, according to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney of the Western District of New York last week.

The department filed a motion to extend its deadline to decide whether to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns over the summer challenging the law that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.

Under the new law, local departments of motor vehicles and county clerk offices are prohibited from sharing private information about those who apply for licenses with immigration enforcement agencies. Kearns’ suit argues that it is a felony to withhold information about undocumented immigrants from those entities, according to Title 8, Section 1373 of the U.S. code.

But in an amicus brief filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in September, attorneys argued that Section 1373 violates the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees states’ authority over policy matters not delegated to the federal government — and which the Supreme Court ruled on last year.

“When the Federal Government attempts to force state and local jurisdictions to enact federal programs and policies, it impermissibly ‘commandeers’ those governments in violation of the Tenth Amendment,” according to the brief.

The Department of Justice stated it would be examining the claim of Section 1373’s unconstitutionality, and asked for a Nov. 12 deadline.

If the department decides to weigh in on the matter, it would be stepping in the middle of a crossfire between multiple upstate Republican clerks and proponents for the law.

Green Light NY, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June, has been targeted by two federal lawsuits from county clerks in upstate New York, with other county clerks vowing to not issue licenses to undocumented immigrants come December, when the law goes into effect. Republican state senators have proposed legislation to protect Department of Motor Vehicles employees from termination if they decide not to follow the new law. The Rensselaer County Board of Elections threatened to send all voter registration data to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The New York State Association of County Clerks penned a letter to Schroeder in August detailing a list of questions and concerns about how the law can be most effectively and safely rolled out in December. And the New York Republican Congressional delegation asked the U.S. Department of Justice last month to evaluate the constitutionality of Green Light NY.

Even proponents for Green Light have raised concerns about the implementation of the law to Mark Schroeder, the commissioner for the state DMV, who has remained silent on the issue.

“There are definitely challenges both theoretically and legally,” Bryan MacCormack, executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement and an organizer in the Green Light NY Coalition, told Johnson Newspapers last month. “But in our organization, we don’t have any doubt that the law is going to be upheld.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James has vowed to aggressively defend the law, which she has described as a safety matter. Green Light would bring more insured drivers and New York state-inspected vehicles on the roads, plus result in fewer hit-and-run crashes.

An estimated 265,000 undocumented immigrants, including 64,000 in the Hudson Valley and Northern and Western New York, are expected to seek driver’s licenses within the first three years of Green Light, according to the left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute. The law is expected to generate $83 million in revenue the first year, and $57 million each year after that.

New York is one of 13 states to adopt legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-32, who sponsored Green Light and calls it a model bill, has said he’s not concerned about opposition to the law. Rather, he claims that the soundness of the bill is what concerns the GOP, and suspects that other states will follow suit with legislations similar to Green Light.

“Come March, people are going to be talking about the success of the law,” he told Johnson Newspapers last month.

Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.