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Undocumented immigrants join New York AG’s effort to defend state law allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses

2019-09-05

Immigrants and community leaders protest in front of the DMV on 34th Street in Manhattan against policies that used to deny driver's licenses to hundreds of thousands of undocumented New Yorkers. Those rules have since been replaced by "Green Light NY," which is now being challenged in federal court. (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

A coalition of immigrants and advocates piggybacked Wednesday on New York Attorney General Letitia James’ effort to defend a state law that allows undocumented people to obtain driver’s licenses, declaring they won’t let “misguided bureaucrats” undo the measure in court.

The coalition — which comprises four unnamed undocumented immigrants, the Hispanic Federation, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Rural and Migrant Ministry — filed a motion to “intervene as defendants” in a federal lawsuit brought against New York State by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, Kearns’ suit argues “Green Light NY," which was signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in June, violates federal law by allowing the state to give documentation to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

In their Wednesday motion, which gives ammunition to James’ defense against Kearns’ suit, the immigrants and advocacy groups countered that 12 other states already have similar laws on the books. They also said having a driver’s license should be an unequivocal right regardless of immigration status.

“Now that this right has been legally restored, we're going to do everything in our power to ensure that some misguided bureaucrats on an anti-immigrant power-trip don't get to take it away again,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Choi also pointed out what he saw as the bleak irony of Kearns’ legal action.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy that county clerks claim they don’t have the resources to process the paperwork for undocumented immigrants, but they are able to freely spend taxpayer dollars on this frivolous and discriminatory lawsuit that is destined to fail," he said.

One of the unnamed undocumented immigrants participating in the action has a son who was born with severe spina bifida, a spinal cord defect that impairs mobility, according to the advocacy groups.

“For nearly five months, the parent has had to transport her son to his doctor’s appointments either via a taxicab or with the help of available friends,” the groups said. “Having a driver’s license would allow this parent to drive her son to his medical appointments without having to rely on friends or costly transportation.”

The three other immigrants would also benefit from “Green Light NY,” as they would be able to drive their children to school, attend medical appointments, attend church and “fully participate in society,” the groups said. All four immigrants live in parts of New York with scant public transit options.

Kearns did not immediately return a request for comment.

James, who represents the state against Kearns’ lawsuit, did not immediately offer a response either.