Skip to main content

Green Light NY wins in federal court

November 9, 2019 03:57 pm Updated: November 9, 2019 10:58 pm

BUFFALO — A law allowing undocumented immigrants access to obtain driver’s license has been upheld in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford ruled Friday to dismiss a lawsuit from Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns against the state that attempted to block the law, known as Green Light New York.

“It is apparent Plaintiff disagrees with the Green Light Law,” Wolford wrote in her decision. “But the mere disagreement with a duly-enacted state statute does not entitle anyone — even an elected official — to seek intervention from a federal court.”

Wolford said that Kearns was not the right person to challenge the law because he did not prove any suffering he would experience due to Green Light.

Kearns’ argued in his suit that under federal law, it is a felony to withhold information about undocumented immigrants from immigration enforcement agencies. Wolford dismissed this, saying Kearns had not “identified a non-speculative scenario in which he could plausibly anticipate being criminally prosecuted… should he comply with the Green Light Law.”

Attorney General Letitia James has consistently argued that the law is beneficial to the public safety and has strong legal grounding.

“The law aims to make our roads safer, our economy stronger, and allows immigrants to come out of the shadows to sign up as legal drivers in our state,” she said in a statement Friday. “That’s why the claims made in this lawsuit not only disregarded these simple truths, but were misinformed and disregarded the privacy rights of New Yorkers.”

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, D-32, who sponsored the Green Light bill, said Friday that this was the decision he expected, “but I’m still on Cloud Nine.”

In a tweet, Sepúlveda said he expects full compliance with the law from DMVs and county clerks when Green Light takes effect Dec. 14.

“History, & the law, will not be deterred by politically-motivated attempts 2 weaken rights tht are long overdue,” he tweeted.

To Bryan MacCormack, executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, Wolford’s decision is proof not only of the legality of Green Light, but also of its necessity.

“We believe that this decision will have a positive impact for us on other county officials may consider bringing, such as in Rensselaer County,” he said. “I hope that the anti immigrant sentiment coming from county DMVs dwindles and they comply with the law.”

Kearns brought forth the lawsuit in July, soon followed by a similar suit from Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola. Merola’s lawsuit was ordered stayed, pending the decision made in Kearns’ suit. Last month, Niagara County also purused legal action to block Green Light.

While these the only counties who took legal action, multiple other clerks have expressed concern over the new law, threatening to turn over information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or simply not comply with the law at all.

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.

Proponents for the law also argue that beside economic benefits, Green Light will create a safer New York with more insured drivers on the roads, fewer hit-and-run crashes and more New York state-inspected vehicles on the roads.

“All New Yorkers will benefit when all parents can drive their kids to school and the doctor or get to work without the threat of detention and deportation. When all NYers can insure and register their vehicles after applying and passing a drivers test,” Anu Joshi, senior director of immigration policy with the New York Immigration Coalition, tweeted Friday afternoon.

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