Immigration

Erie County Clerk’s Green Light Battle Wages On

The legal battle between the Erie County Clerk’s office and New York state over granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will continue.

Last week, a federal judge determined Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, did not have standing to challenge the state’s Green Light Law. Kearns had previously predicted this suit could go all the way to the Supreme Court but was not prepared the day of the decision to talk about the appeals process.

After consulting with county attorneys, He said he filed a notice of appeal Wednesday.

“It’s a high standard,” Kearns said. “We know that, so you’re right, the second circuit, it’s a high standard. They would have to reverse the Western District circuit.”

But Kearns said he has a few things that are going for him. He said another pending federal court case could influence whether he does, in fact, have standing.

He also believes the case deserves to be judged on its constitutionality rather than who brought the lawsuit. Although Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a statement suggesting it was time to move on, Kearns said the County Attorney’s office represents him too and continues to cooperate.

In the meantime, the clerk is preparing for Green Light to go into effect on December 14. He said clerks across the state have received little guidance from the Department of Motor Vehicles about implementation.

As a result, he expects to need to hire 11 new part-time positions. He said the office needs experts to interpret foreign documents and asked the county Legislature Wednesday for roughly $670,000 more in next year’s budget.

The request seems a bit odd as Kearns has maintained he won’t allow his staff to implement the new law, regardless of how litigation plays out.

“If we don’t have to process those licenses (then) we don’t need that money but I wanted, as they’re budgeting overall, I want them to at least have a number in their mind on what the impacts could be of this law,” he said.

Kearns pointed out the governor still has the power to remove him from office. There’s been no indication that will happen, but Kearns said it’s his responsibility to prepare for all possibilities and the request is essentially a contingency if the office is forced to process licenses.

At the same time, the clerk said he doesn’t expect the County Legislature to approve the request. Members of the Democratic majority were not available for comment Wednesday.

As for proponents of Green Light who suggest the law will actually bring in more revenue to counties because there will be a new customer base, Kearns admitted theoretically that might be the case. However, he said there is not enough information about how many undocumented immigrants there are in the state to plan.

“All we know is obviously people who are here illegally, they’re not letting themselves (be) known and they’re anticipating, the state of New York, there’s between 750,000 and 1 million people here illegally,” he said.

December 14 is a Saturday and Kearns is expecting a showdown between immigration advocates and his office. He said he believes Erie County is the only county upstate with Saturday auto bureau hours.

Erie County Clerk’s Green Light Lawsuit Dismissed

A legal challenge to the new state law that will allow undocumented immigrants living in New York to apply for and receive driver’s licenses was rejected on Friday by a federal judge.

The lawsuit had been filed by Democratic Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, who is among the local government officials who have pledged to not enforce the law, approved in June by state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The measure is set to take effect before the end of the year.

“The law aims to make our roads safer and our economy stronger,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “We will continue to defend it.”

Supporters of the measure celebrated the ruling on Friday even as other lawsuits loom.

“Green Light is a well crafted bill that will make roads safer for all New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, the Bronx Democrat who sponsored the bill in his chamber.

Other legal challenges to the measure remain, including one filed by Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola. County clerks who administer local motor vehicle offices for the state had led the previous opposition to the proposal by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007.

Judge Hopes To Make Decision By Mid-November On Green Light Lawsuit

The state and Erie County attorneys made oral arguments in federal court Wednesday in Buffalo regarding a challenge to New York’s new Green Light Law.

The law, passed by the State Legislature earlier this year, would grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns brought the lawsuit, arguing it’s unconstitutional because it would force him to break federal immigration law.

Judge Elizabeth Wolford acknowledged she was presiding over an important case and said she hoped to make a decision by mid-November. Kearns would like the judge to implement an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law until it’s fully-litigated.

It is supposed to go into effect in December.

“It’s much better to preserve the status quo, we believe, not only for the sake of the parties involved but also, quite frankly, for the safety of the community while this issue is fully litigated,” Assistant Erie County Attorney Ken Kirby said.

The AG’s office meanwhile would like the case thrown out entirely. They spent much of Wednesday’s proceedings arguing Kearns did not have “standing” to bring the lawsuit because he did not prove he is injured by the law.

The state said, counter to Kearns’s claim, processing licenses for undocumented immigrants would not constitute the federal definition of harboring an illegal alien and therefore he is not at risk of prosecution.

“They don’t want to get to the facts of the case,” Kearns said. “They want this dismissed on a technicality. If they were so confident in their case they wouldn’t let us go to that next step.”

Activist in support of the Green Light law were in the courtroom for the hearing. They said they’re confident in the attorney general to defend the case and argued Kearns is trying to divide the community.

“We understand that today Mickey Kearns continued to make his frivolous and politically motivated arguments and we know that this law will stand up as constitutional,” Meghan Maloney de Zaldivar of the New York Immigration Coalition said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in Western New York on Wednesday, seemed content to let the issue play out in court. He said the lawsuit was not unexpected and the AG said the Green Light Law would stand up.

Meanwhile, the federal government has asked to get involved as a plaintiff and has a November 12 deadline to submit its papers. It’s unclear if the judge will wait for those arguments before making her decision.

Judge Denies Involvement Of Several Outside Parties In “Green Light” Lawsuit

A federal judge has denied several parties attempts to get involved in ongoing litigation regarding the legality of New York’s new Green Light Law.

A coalition of immigrant groups from New York, Western New York activist Dan Warren and the New York State Conservative Party will not be allowed to get involved in the lawsuit. Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns challenged the law, which grants driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, in July.

It is scheduled to go into effect on December 14 unless Judge Elizabeth Wolford imposes a temporary injunction.

“Since the filing of this lawsuit, numerous third parties have sought leave of the court to become involved in various ways,” Wolford wrote in a decision and order filed Wednesday.

The judge acknowledged the court has already allowed multiple parties to submit amicus briefs as “friends of the court.”  A coalition of eight states and the District of Columbia filed a brief in support of the defendants, New York State, as did the New York Civil Liberties Union last month.

Wolford also let the Immigration Reform Institute formally put its support in writing for the plaintiff.

“The Court acknowledges that notwithstanding its authority to demand a stringent test for status as amicus curiae, it has been somewhat flexible in allowing the submissions of briefs from amici curiae to date,” she wrote.

However, in the case of the state Conservative Party, the judge ruled it failed to submit a timely brief, making its request more than two weeks after a deadline set by the court with no explanation of justification as to why it was late. Wolford also concluded the party’s argument did not seem to add anything the original complaint had not already addressed.

Warren’s request to intervene as a defendant was actually opposed by both the plaintiff and defendants. The judge said said his concerns about the impact on Erie County taxpayers was speculative and could unnecessarily delay resolution.

Finally, Wolford wrote that a motion to intervene filed by the Rural and Migrant Ministry, New York Immigration Coalition, Hispanic Federal and Intervenors, and four unnamed individuals, was also denied. While she conceded the parties may have different motives to protect the Green Light Law than state leaders, their ultimate objective of protecting it is the same.

The United State Justice Department has indicated it intends to intervene although the judge has not made a ruling with regards to that yet. Oral arguments are scheduled for October 23 in federal court in Buffalo.

Immigrant Organizations Ask To Join State As Defendants In Green Light Lawsuit

A coalition of immigrant organizations and individuals has filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging New York’s new Green Light Law.

The law, which is set to go into effect in December, will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The challenge was filed by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns who argued the state law conflicts with federal statute.

Kearns named Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Attorney General Letitia James and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder as defendants. However, the coalition said immigrants would be impacted directly and differently than the state and therefore should be allowed to participate in the litigation.

“They are uniquely situated to provide factual information that would significantly contribute to a full understanding of the impact an adverse determination could have on beneficiaries of the law. They are intimately familiar with the need to protect individuals who seek to engage in an everyday activity — here, driving — without fear of deportation,” attorney Jorge Luis Vasquez, Jr. wrote. “Collectively, Intervenors can describe the interests of immigrants in securing a license so that necessities of daily living, such as driving to the grocery store to shop for food or the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, doctor’s offices for examinations and treatments, the ease of which many others take for granted, can be accomplished without fear and trepidation. The State is simply ill-suited to provide that perspective.”

The prospective intervenors include the Rural and Migrant Ministry, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Hispanic Federation, as well as a migrant farm worker in Niagara County, a Westchester County mother who is caring for two children with disabilities, a domestic violence survivor in Dutchess County and another young mother in Nassau County. They say they do not seek a delay of proceedings and, in fact, request they move quickly.

Kearns is seeking a preliminary injunction to to prevent the law from going into effect prior to a final decision from the courts. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for later this month.

State To Ask For Rensselaer ‘Green Light’ Challenge Be Put On Hold

From the Morning Memo:

There are several new developments involving lawsuits challenging New York’s Green Light Law which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

The state plans to file a motion asking for Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola’s federal suit to be transferred to the Western District court or be put on hold until a judge makes a decision on a similar action in Erie County.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns filed his challenge before Merola and is asking for an injunction on implementation of the law.

The state has also asked for dismissal of the Kearns suit and suggested it wouldn’t make sense for the courts to pursue any other litigation until a judge makes a decision on those matters. That motion will be made September 19 with the oral arguments for the Erie County suit scheduled for Sept. 25.

At the same time, the state of Connecticut said it intends to file court documents in support of New York in the Kearns case.

“In an amicus brief, Connecticut will offer the perspective of a neighboring state with more than four years of experience granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents,” Joshua Perry, Special Counsel for Civil Rights wrote.

“Our example – along with those of 11 other states and the District of Columbia – shows that granting these licenses is not only well within each state’s prerogative but is also a wise policy decision that improves public health and safety.”

Perry said New York’s decision is an “appropriate and well-considered exercise of police power.” He asked for the court’s permission to file the brief no later than August 23.

Morelle Visiting U.S.-Mexico Border

From the Morning Memo:

Rep. Joe Morelle, D-NY-25, will spend Thursday on the Southern Border, both in El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico.

He is one of 23 representatives who are taking part in the trip while Congress is on a short break from session. Morelle said he will be speaking with U.S. government officials, immigration policy experts and detainees.

Specifically, the congressman said he’s concerned about separation policy – with more than 1,000 children reportedly separated from their families over the last year and more than half of them under the age of ten years old. Morelle said it’s still questionable whether many of them will be reunited with their families.

“As a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine the trauma that’s being inflicted on children that are being separated from their moms and dads and family members and can only be wondering what’s going on in their world,” he said.

Morelle said he doesn’t know exactly what he will see during the visit. He wants to ensure conditions in detention centers are appropriate.

“Certainly there have been press reports of people being forced to drink out of toilets, people not having access to facilities that you are I would think basic at the very least, so I just want to get a firsthand account of what that’s like,” he said.

The Democrat said he does believe Congress can reach common ground on immigration policy that protects the border while providing a real path to citizenship and doing so in a humanitarian way. He said this trip is a signal he is serious about finding a resolution and others should get in the same mindset.

“Frankly, there are many people in the middle of this debate who I think are using it to advance their own political interests and I think that’s disappointing,” he said.

Earlier this month, Souther Tier Republican Tom Reed took a similar trip to the border with the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Reed Describes ‘Crisis’ He Witnesses At The Border

From the Morning Memo:

During a trip to the Southern Border last week, Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, said he saw firsthand a scenario which drove home the immigration crisis for him.

Reed said a man was attempting to go through customs with a six-month-old child, but something seemed off. When border agents threatened a rapid DNA test and kidnapping charges, the man admitted to “renting” the child from a smuggler because he was told it was the best way to get across.

The story was one of several he relayed during a conference call with reporters.

“I can not live in a Utopic, idealistic world that does not recognize there are threats that are there at the border. I’ve seen the drugs. I’ve seen the weapons. I’ve seen the use of human beings in the most despicable way,” Reed said.

The congressman went on the trip with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus of which he chairs. He said he was not surprised by what they saw but it was heart wrenching to see it in person.

“This is a crisis,” Reed said. “It is something that is real and what the border agents are doing at the border, to me is humane. It is done out of caring heart and it is doing the best with the crisis level influx of people coming through the border that they have to recognize and deal with and process.”

He said he saw a “tremendous amount of evil” functioning at borders, namely the Cartel which he said essentially controls the Mexican side. Reed said he saw in real time, Cartel intelligence officers reporting back and directing thousands of people to go other areas of the border in order to weaken ports of entry.

“The border guards should not be blamed for this situation. This is not their fault at the border. What I fundamentally see here is the blame is in Congress. Congress needs to step up and lead on this issue and set aside the partisan rhetoric,” he said.

The Republican promised to be cognizant of toning down his own rhetoric but also said he would call out “spineless political leaders,” who are putting politics over real solutions. He said Congress needs to find a way to create an easier path to citizenship but it also needs to provide more resources to border patrol who are overtaxed and regularly dealing with dangerous situations.

Reed, Problem Solvers Visiting Southern Border

From the Morning Memo:

A bipartisan group of Congress members called the Problem Solvers Caucus is leading a visit to the Southern border today.

Among them is caucus co-chair and Southern Tier Republican Tom Reed. He said members will be sitting together and continuing discussions about potential solutions Democrats and Republicans can both consider a win.

“I believe it will be the largest bipartisan contingency of Democrats in the House of Representatives traveling together to the border to see first hand the crisis that is there,” Reed said. “I think the best policy you can develop is by experiencing the situation firsthand when you can and so this is an opportunity I wanted to seize.”

Late last month, Congress approved about $4.5 billion dollars in emergency border money aimed at alleviating overcrowded migrant detention centers.

“I’m looking forward to talking to folks on the front line about what could be done to alleviate the immediate crisis even more so than the humanitarian aid that we shepherded through the system here two weeks ago and then also, what can we do long-term to fix our broken immigration policy in America so that we don’t have these crises continuing at the border,” Reed said.

“Even when they’re taken care of in the short-term, if we don’t fix the root cause of the problem, our broken immigration policy, we’re going to be right back into this situation again.”

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, including Reed, are holding media availability in Texas Friday evening.

Reed Open To Considering Support For “Red Light Act”

From The Morning Memo:

New York lawmakers and the governor expected legal objections to the state’s new Green Light law from President Donald Trump’s administration.

There appears to be some congressional pushback to the law which grants driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, as well. Legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Collins to withhold federal highway funding from states that allow the driver’s licenses could have support from another New York Republican, although he wouldn’t make a formal commitment.

“I’ve seen what Chris Collins is discussing,” Congressman Tom Reed said. “I’ve talked to him on the floor in regards to it and we’ll see because I didn’t see the final text.”

Reed said he would be “very open to considering supporting” Collins’s Red Light Act because he is opposed to the Green Light Bill.

“I am opposed to the giving of licenses to illegal immigrants,” he said. “I think that is part of an extreme agenda that doesn’t get to the issue at hand and could lead to more danger on our roads to be perfectly honest with you.”

Reed will probably not get a chance to officially support the legislation. With a Democratic congress, it seems unlikely the bill will even reach the floor for a vote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s spokesman Jason Conwall said it is “nothing more than political grandstanding” from Collins “who’s been indicted on felony charges” and knows the bill has no chance of passing.