Part of New York's soon-to-take-effect law allowing driving privileges for undocumented immigrants may conflict with federal law, according to the Trump administration.
ALBANY – Part of New York's soon-to-take-effect law allowing driving privileges for undocumented immigrants may conflict with federal law, according to the Trump administration.
The U.S. Department of Justice intervened Thursday in a federal lawsuit challenging New York's Green Light Law, which takes effect Dec. 14 and will allow immigrants in the country illegally to apply for a driver's license by using foreign-issued documents to prove their identity.
In a court filing, DOJ took issue with a portion of the state law that prevents state and county officials from providing information to federal immigration officials without a court order.
The provision was designed by state lawmakers to quell concerns from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and advocacy groups, who feared the New York law could lead to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials easily obtaining state records on undocumented immigrants.
But DOJ claims that part of the law is "legally suspect," suggesting it conflicts with a pair of federal laws.
Federal law prevents state governments from prohibiting state or local officials from sending information on citizenship or immigration status to the federal government.
The Green Light Law prevents state and local officials from sending such information unless a judge signs a court order.
"The (state law's) disclosure restrictions are wide-reaching and appear aimed at frustrating the federal government’s enforcement of the immigration laws," Charles Roberts, a DOJ trial attorney, wrote in the filing.
County clerks in New York had been hoping the Trump administration would get involved in the battle to block the state law, which has left some clerks uneasy as the law gets ready to take effect Dec. 14.
DOJ intervened in a federal lawsuit filed by Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, a Republican who argues the Green Light Law is unconstitutional and would force county clerks across the state to break federal law.
Practically speaking, undocumented immigrants won't be able to apply for licenses until Monday, Dec. 16, since most DMVs are closed on weekends.
Merola is seeking a preliminary injunction blocking the law before then.
DOJ's interest in the case is narrow.
The federal agency did not take a position on whether Merola has legal standing to challenge the law, which state Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, has argued he does not.
A federal judge in western New York previously ruled Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns did not have standing to sue, though Kearns is appealing the ruling.
Instead, DOJ focused squarely on the disclosure portions of the law, which were inserted when Cuomo raised concern about whether the state was inadvertently making it easier for ICE to use state records to locate and deport immigrants who entered the country illegally.
The state Legislature approved the Green Light Law in June, and Cuomo signed it into law.
DOJ asked U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe to uphold the portions of federal law that block states from restricting the flow of immigration information.
James, who is defending the case on behalf of the Cuomo administration, received a boost Monday when 10 states who already allow undocumented immigrants to receive driving privileges filed a legal motion in New York's defense.
The states, along with Washington D.C., argued that their laws made their roads safer in part by allowing immigrants to receive insurance, which cuts down on uninsured drivers.
"Instead, they make the (states) and their residents safer, healthier, and better off by reducing hit-and-run behavior and other driving infractions; reducing accidents; and reducing insurance cost," according to the state's brief.