Under New York State’s Green Light Law, auto bureau employees are prohibited from reporting people who are attempting to get a driver’s license to federal immigration authorities.
However, the law does not stop regular citizens from reporting undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is making sure people in the auto bureaus he runs know how to do so.
Before the Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to get licenses, officially takes effect later this month, Kearns said he will post signs with the ICE tip line number on every customer service window of every local bureau.
“If you’re here illegally and you’re coming to get a license in Erie County, I told them this and I told them this, we’re going to be upfront, you may be reported to ICE. You just may be reported to ICE,” he said.
Kearns acknowledged that could potentially lead to people hanging around the facility to “catch” undocumented immigrants.
“It’s a public building, so I can’t tell people what to do and not to do,” he said.
But the clerk said the signs are not a “scare tactic.” He said he is genuinely concerned about the safety of constituents, and this is one of his last options.
Kearns previously challenged the law in federal court, but a judge dismissed the case, ruling the clerk did not have standing. Kearns and the county are in the process of appealing the decision, but said his paperwork isn’t due until January 8, 2020.
The state’s response is due February 12, meaning any new ruling would not likely come until the law had been in place for months. In the meantime, Kearns maintained he will not process licenses and will have a plan to direct his employees.
“There’s going to be no hiding behind this. The day is coming, and the governor will know what’s going on directly,” he said.
Kearns said he was one of 13 county clerks who met with federal law enforcement officials Wednesday in Syracuse to talk about their options. He said 10 more clerks were on the phone.
Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski confirmed he will also post the same kinds of tip line signs at his offices. He and Kearns continue to complain they are getting no guidance from the state.
“They’re starting to roll out very poor training. Today there was some training,” Kearns said. “We found out today – I had no contact from the state of New York, I did not receive any notification, I got a call from one of my managers – that they were trying to put new equipment in.”
The clerk said the state was installing technology to help authenticate foreign documents. He said federal officials also told them there was no such technology that could effectively do that.
The Green Light Law goes into effect on December 14 – a Saturday. Kearns believed his auto bureaus are the only facilities in the state open that day, which could potentially set up a showdown with immigration advocates.
However, he said if undocumented immigrants flood his auto bureaus that Saturday, they will be disappointed, because the state said the necessary software will not be ready until December 16, anyway.