Im­mi­grants seek­ing driver’s li­censes line up across NY

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ma­rina Vil­lenueve

AL­BANY, N.Y. >> Bun­dled in win­ter jack­ets, im­mi­grants lined up at some De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle of­fices through­out New York as the state be­gan is­su­ing driver’s li­censes Mon­day that don’t re­quire ap­pli­cants to prove they are in the coun­try legally.

Hun­dreds of New York­ers waited out­side mo­tor ve­hi­cle agen­cies in New York City, while sev­eral up­state clerks said they saw few ap­pli­cants. Li­cense ap­pli­cants with­out a valid So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber can now sub­mit mul­ti­ple al­ter­na­tive forms of ID that in­cludes valid pass­ports and driver’s li­censes is­sued in other coun­tries. State DMV of­fi­cials said they ad­justed staffing lev­els and up­dated their reser­va­tion sys­tem in an­tic­i­pa­tion of such large crowds Mon­day.

“This is a ma­jor step for­ward for all New York­ers as we keep build­ing New York to live up to its full po­ten­tial of eq­uity, op­por­tu­nity, and jus­tice,” said state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda last week. “We also look for­ward to the sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic and safety ben­e­fits the law will bring to com­mu­ni­ties across our state.”

At least one county clerk in up­state New York op­posed to the law said he was turn­ing away ap­pli­cants. Rens­se­laer County Clerk Frank Merola, one of sev­eral clerks who has sued to block New York’s law said his of­fice had turned away an ap­pli­cant who

wanted a driver’s per­mit but lacked a so­cial se­cu­rity num­ber.

“I was pretty adamant that I was go­ing to have a tough time do­ing it out of my of­fice,” Merola said. “That might have dis­cour­aged peo­ple com­ing to my of­fice.”

The Repub­li­can clerk said his of­fice di­rected the ap­pli­cant across the Hud­son River to the state-run De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles of­fices in Al­bany.

Mean­while, Demo­cratic Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has said any clerks who do not want to fol­low state law should re­sign.

“Lo­cal of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing county clerks who run DMV of­fices, can­not choose which laws they like and which they will dis­re­gard,” said De­part­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Spokes­woman Lisa Koumjian. “If a clerk is un­will­ing to fol­low State law, he or she should re­sign their of­fice.”

New York now ac­cepts doc­u­ments such as for­eign pass­ports, per­ma­nent res­i­dent cards, for­eign driver’s li­censes and bor­der cross­ing cards from driver’s li­cense ap­pli­cants.

Merola and sev­eral other clerks have claimed their staff lack the train­ing and equip­ment to ver­ify for­eign doc­u­ments and prop­erly com­ply with the law. Merola said only three out of 17 of his em­ploy­ees have had time to watch a one­hour we­bi­nar pro­vided by the DMV this month.

Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns, a Demo­crat who ran on the Repub­li­can line, said that his em­ploy­ees took ap­pli­ca­tions from about 10 in­di­vid­u­als Mon­day. He said he di­rected his em­ploy­ees to re­fer ap­pli­ca­tions to his of­fice so that he can au­then­ti­cate and ver­ify them. “We haven’t pro­cessed any pa­per­work but we’re not turn­ing any­one away,” he said.

Cuomo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said they have pro­vided county and state DMV staff with de­vices to au­then­ti­cate doc­u­ments, and pro­vided hands-on-train­ing when they in­stalled de­vices. A spokes­woman said the state DMV also pro­vided two train­ing ses­sions, train­ing ma­te­ri­als and two on­line we­bi­nars.

“The law ap­plies to only one li­cense trans­ac­tion and the DMV is not cre­at­ing a new li­cense or over­haul­ing the cur­rent process,” Koumjian said.

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates have said they’re ready to go to court to de­fend the law.

“We are grate­ful to the state for pro­vid­ing DMV staff and county clerks the train­ing, equip­ment and re­sources they need to en­sure the smooth im­ple­men­ta­tion of Green­light NY,” New York Im­mi­gra­tion Coali­tion NYIC Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Steve Choi said.

Law­mak­ers in June made New York the 13th state to au­tho­rize li­censes for driv­ers with­out le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. New Jersey law­mak­ers passed a sim­i­lar bill Mon­day.

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