The Whistleblower Hotline is a phone, email and online system the Erie County comptroller uses for tips about fraud, waste and abuse in county government.
Now, Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw intends to use the hotline for one more purpose — to expose and report to federal authorities the names of immigrants in the country illegally who apply for driver's licenses anywhere in New York State.
The Republican comptroller on Thursday mailed letters to county clerks across New York State telling them to contact his office's Whistleblower Hotline if they want to anonymously report immigrants in the country illegally who apply for driver's licenses.
Mychajliw said he would turn over the names to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the federal Department of Homeland Security.
"There needs to be a mechanism for members of the county clerks offices to report illegal immigrants applying for driver's licenses without getting into trouble," Mychajliw said.
The idea drew criticism from County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who said he created the hotline when he was the county comptroller "as a way for citizens to anonymously and confidentially report the waste, fraud and abuse of county resources."
"Using the Whistleblower Hotline for anything other than the reporting of abuse of county resources is, in itself, an abuse of county resources," Poloncarz said in a statement.
He added that Mychajliw is abusing the Whistleblower Hotline to raise his political profile in his bid to eventually replace Rep. Chris Collins in Congress.
"The comptroller’s use of the county’s Whistleblower Hotline to promote his own political ambitions is an abuse of county resources," he said. "If he wishes to set up a statewide hotline he should do it using his own personal or political campaign resources, not on the taxpayers’ dime."
Erie County Clerk Michael "Mickey" Kearns, a Democrat, has pledged not to issue driver's licenses to immigrants living here illegally.
Some county clerks and employees throughout the state wish to be "conscientious objectors" to the new state mandate, but they fear losing their jobs, Mychajliw said.
He said he wants give clerks a "back door" way to report suspected immigrants here illegally to the federal agency.
"I was meeting privately with federal law enforcement officials from ICE, and the issue came up with clerks being in a very bad spot in New York State," Mychajliw said. "Many clerks want to report illegal immigrants that apply for driver’s licenses but are fearful of doing it directly because they might get thrown out of office."
He said the federal officials seemed appreciative of his efforts to serve as a conduit for information.
In his letter to the clerks, Mychajliw wrote, "You or your employees may not feel comfortable reporting possible violations of the law directly to federal authorities. I can help. My office does not investigate claims about possible illegal immigrants. However, if my office were to anonymously receive such complaints, we would forward the concerns to the proper federal authorities on the whistleblower's behalf."
The comptroller's website already includes new language under the Whistleblower Hotline section: "If you are, or work for, a County Clerk in New York State and you suspect that a person who is in the United States illegally has applied for a driver’s license, you can anonymously report it to ICE by calling their hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or electronically on their website. OR, utilize our Erie County hotline, and we will forward all tips."
Kearns said he appreciates what Mychajliw is doing.
"I remain committed to my position not to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants," Kearns said. "I can’t believe that the State of New York, which bore the effects of 9/11, would no longer want its citizens to follow the Department of Homeland Security’s Campaign of 'when you see something, say something.' "
Mychajliw reiterated his position that granting driver's licenses to immigrants here illegally would be harmful to Erie County.
"My job is to protect Erie County taxpayers, and this law negatively impacts government in Erie County and taxpayers of Erie County," Mychajliw said. "I’ll never back down from being their watchdog, whether it be a county issue or a state or federal law that impacts our region."
Read Mychajliw's letter to county clerks: