Erie County Clerk Michael "Mickey" Kearns took his first legal step to fight a new state law that allows immigrants in the country illegally to obtain a New York State driver's license.
Kearns sent a letter to the Erie County Attorney's Office on Tuesday seeking legal representation.
"As I understand it, this Act requires that, as an agent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, I will be compelled to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," he wrote. "I will not be granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants."
He wants a legal determination from federal court as to what his rights are as clerk and whether he could be compelled to enforce the state law over what he views as a violation of federal law.
"I anticipate being sued in either event," Kearns wrote to County Attorney Michael Siragusa. "As a result, I intend to file a declaratory action in the United States District Court challenging the law as applied to the Erie County Clerk, and I request your representation in this lawsuit and in supporting the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
Kearns said the letter had been hand-delivered to the county attorney Tuesday morning and that he has not spoken with Siragusa about whether the county would represent him.
Siragusa responded Tuesday afternoon, saying, "We will be reviewing his request and make a determination in the near future."
Kearns has been in contact with Joseph A. Jastrzemski, who represents county clerks in the western part of the state as part of the New York State Clerk's Association. Jastrzemski is checking with the other county clerks to see which ones intend to oppose issuing driver's licenses to immigrants here illegally and determine what future legal steps might be taken, Kearns said.
If a federal judge determines that all New York county clerks must enforce the state law, Kearns said, "We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Green Light Bill into law Monday night, making New York the 13th state to have some sort of driver’s license program for people in the country without immigration papers. The measure was approved last week by the Assembly. The Democratic-controlled Senate, after more than four hours of acrimonious debate and speeches, approved the measure by a 33 to 29 vote.
A number of county clerks, including Kearns, have said they would not process applications from such immigrants. The clerks have said they will point such individuals to State Department of Motor Vehicle offices. The nearest one to Buffalo is in Syracuse.
Others have said they will notify federal immigration officials when undocumented immigrants seek licenses in their offices.