When New York state passed the "Green Light" legislation last month allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, county clerks from upstate threatened to rebel.
Now, Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns has filed a lawsuit, saying the new law puts him in a difficult position.
"If we foul the law and issue a license — which I'm not going to do — we violate federal law," Kearns said. "Because we are harboring illegal aliens by giving them a driver's license."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed concerns about the bill when it was passed. Tuesday, he said he is not surprised by the lawsuit.
"Every locality will come up with a different interpretation, I believe, because this is now a political issue," the governor said.
A dozen other states, along with Washington D.C., already allow undocumented immigrants to apply for get driver's licenses.
But Cuomo says the bigger issue will be a legal one: if the federal government tries to access the state's DMV database.
"You have states now that have undocumented people getting licenses," Cuomo said. "and the federal government is taking the data from those states and using it for deportation purposes."
Democratic State Sen. Luis Sepulveda, the sponsor of the bill, said that won't be a problem in New York. And Attorney General Letitia James, who would have to fight the federal government in court, agrees with the bill sponsor, not Cuomo.
"The source documents are destroyed in a relatively short period of time, including the photographs," Sepulveda said. "So even if by some miracle Mickey Kearns's litigation succeeds … they are not going to have the source documents that are available and the photos that are available — they will be destroyed within a short period of time."
This isn't the first time New York went through this argument about whether county clerks need to comply with the law. In 2007, then-governor Eliot Spitzer proposed granting licenses to undocumented immigrants. County clerks spoke up, and ultimately Spitzer backed down. However, the anti-immigration mood right now is far different under President Donald Trump than it was 12 years ago, with a new zeal on the part of the federal government to target immigrants.