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Kearns says auto bureaus won't process licenses for undocumented immigrants

Undocumented immigrants would not be allowed to get driver's licenses if Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns has his way.

Kearns, who is running for reelection, made his preemptive declaration at a press conference Thursday. He cited a bill in the State Legislature that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.

The bill's prospects, however, are uncertain, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been non-committal on the issue.

"The current bill would allow undocumented immigrants to get a New York State driver's license by showing a foreign passport without a valid U.S. visa stamp and an affidavit, waiving the necessity to show a Social Security Card," Kearns said.

"If the Legislature or the governor through executive order does this, we will not process any of these licenses in Erie County," Kearns said.

"As the Erie County clerk elected by the taxpayers of Erie County to look out for their best interests, I cannot in good conscience follow through on a policy that would violate federal laws by knowingly providing government identification to people here illegally," Kearns said.

Kearns’ announcement drew a rebuke from a high-ranking county legislator.

“This is a blatant disregard for the rule of law,” said Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April N.M. Baskin. “Attacks on immigrants have been on the rise since the 2016 presidential election. The fact that this latest attack is coming from an elected official is especially troubling.

“Denying residents the ability to gain formal state identification in defiance of state law will harm our entire community, and perpetuates systemic inequality,” Baskin said. “I call on Michael P. Kearns to do the job that he was elected to do and to stop playing politics with the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Kearns denied his stance was politically motivated in an election year to appeal to Trump voters.

"I don't think it's political," he said. "I feel I am letting the taxpayers of Erie County know my position on this issue.

"We are still a nation of laws and you should come here legally," Kearns said. "I believe that personally, and I will continue to believe that as an elected official. I haven't made that any type of secret."

It would not be fair to New York State residents who are turned away without proper documentation, he said.

Kearns, as an agent of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, would be required to carry out licensing of undocumented immigrants if it were state law.

His position was slammed by Jennifer Connor, an organizer with Justice for Migrant Families WNY.

"Access to driver's licenses is a basic quality of life and human rights issue," Connor said. "We want drivers on the road to have licenses and insurance. Mickey Kearns' position is a travesty. Buffalo is a community that welcomes people from all over the world."

 

A dozen states and the District of Columbia offer licenses for undocumented immigrants.

About 265,000 immigrants would get licenses if the law is signed, including about 2,500 in Buffalo, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported last month.

In September 2007, then-Gov. Elliot Spitzer issued an executive order directing state offices to allow undocumented immigrants to be issued driver's licenses. He later withdrew the order after widespread criticism, which included 13 county clerks who vowed not to do so.

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