LITTLE VALLEY — The state’s Green Light law takes effect Saturday, permitting undocumented immigrants to apply for New York driver’s licenses.
While some county clerks opposed to the law are threatening not to comply, Cattaraugus County Clerk Alan Bernstein said the county motor vehicle offices will comply with the law.
“I don’t like it,” Bernstein said. “I think it renders standard New York state driver’s licenses meaningless for purposes of identification.”
Until next October, the licenses may be used to board a plane, he added.
Last week, motor vehicle clerks received one hour of training on a conference call with Department of Motor Vehicle officials in Albany, Bernstein said. That was followed with 45 minutes of a video question and answer session. He said the training was “pathetic.”
The so-called Green Light legislation was intended to provide undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses so they could register and insure their vehicles.
Bernstein said the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, as it is officially called, prohibits motor vehicle offices from sharing any information with law enforcement. The law prohibits DMV clerks from keeping copies of documents used to obtain a driver’s license or to take notes on the proof.
Bernstein said an unscrupulous clerk could issue a driver’s license to someone showing nothing more than a photo of a chicken.
“They could pretend they were doing a transaction and walk out with a driver’s license,” he said. “There is no evidence like with the Real ID or enhanced driver’s license where you keep copies of everything they bring in.”
Bernstein said it is “troubling because there is no way to check anything.”
The DMV offices will have an optical scanner to verify documents. It may not work on all documents, Bernstein said. Clerks will hand back documents that are not verified.
“I asked what to do if we suspect fraud and was told we are still not supposed to make copies,” Bernstein said. “If it passes and is verified, we’ll give them the driver’s license.”
Examples of acceptable documents for identification include a photocopy of a birth certificate with a signed and certified translation, a foreign driver’s license or a report card.
“If it comes back invalid, we give it back,” Bernstein explained.
Certified translations of original documents will be accepted if the signer designates it “certified,” Bernstein said. The county DMV offices in Little Valley, Olean and Delevan have no Spanish-speaking employees, he noted.
“My problem is not with the issuing of the licenses to these individuals, but with the procedure,” Bernstein said. “We don’t have a good way to document who they are.”
Of the 12 states that already provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, Bernstein said the statistics show uninsured motor vehicle accidents drop and hit-and-run accidents drop by double digits.
Bernstein isn’t sure the benefits outweigh his concerns, including a conflict with federal law.
The lack of documentation means transactions can’t be audited because no copies will be kept.
After all that, Bernstein isn’t expecting many Green Light law applications. “I don’t think there will be any requests,” he said.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)