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County Clerk: DMV Won’t Alter How Licenses Are Issued

The Jamestown office of the Department of Motor Vehicles on West Third Street. P-J photo by William Mohan

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County Clerk Larry Barmore said he will not allow local DMV offices to alter the way it issues driver’s licenses. The decree, in effect, will likely limit immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally obtaining New York state driver’s licenses despite a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo hoping to do just that.

In a letter sent to the local media in late May, and again reiterated following passage of the “Green Light Bill” by both the state Assembly and Senate, Barmore said he has no intention of changing the way licenses are issued to those who enter DMV offices in Chautauqua County.

Under the law, immigrants will be allowed to use valid foreign documents — including passports — to verify their identities when applying for a driver’s license. Proponents say the law will help immigrants get to work and provide for their families. Opponents say the law rewards those who violated federal immigration laws and could lead to potential voter fraud if the licenses are used to register to vote.

The bill’s sponsor in the state Senate was Luis Sepulveda, a Bronx Democrat.

Barmore, in an op-ed published by The Post-Journal on May 26, said allowing use of foreign passports or birth certificates as identification would place an undue burden on DMV employees by forcing them to learn dozens of new documents to determine authenticity.

“Those in support of this bill argue that it will allow undocumented workers to legally drive to their places of employment, employment that is illegal for them to have according to the Immigration Reform and Control Act,” Barmore wrote.

“It is a federal crime to employ undocumented workers. Lost in all this discussion about driver’s licenses is the fact that these same undocumented immigrants will now be able to register to vote at the DMV because of the motor voter law. All DMVs were recently outfitted with new equipment known as a ‘customer facing device.’ This device faces the customer and away from the DMV employee and its purpose is to allow customers applying for a license to register to vote. The screen tells the customer that they must be a U.S. citizen to register but never asks them if they are a citizen. They are asked, ‘Do you wish to register to vote’ and by pushing the ‘yes’ button they may now register to vote.”

Furthermore, Barmore said legal U.S. citizens have long had to produce six forms of identification — including a Social Security card and birth certificate — in order to obtain a license.

“All of the county clerks in the western district have taken a stand against this legislation as well as many clerks outside of our district but the legislators do not seem to care,” Barmore said. “… As your County Clerk I will not allow the DMV offices to change the way we issue licenses. Those wanting a license will have to continue to show six points of identification, including a Social Security card, as we have done in the past. It is time to put on the brakes and give the red light to this bill. This legislation is not good for Chautauqua County.”

On Tuesday, Barmore again reiterated he has no intention on relaxing the requirement that six forms of ID be produced to anyone seeking a license.

“We are going to take care of everyone that walks into the office equally,” Barmore told The Post-Journal. “We will not change how we issue licenses. … We don’t care who you are, and we’re not here to determine anyone’s status.”

He said valid forms of ID can also include W-2 and 1099 forms and utility bills. Once identification is obtained, the county clerk said license seekers can then take a written test for a learner’s permit followed by a road test.

“We’re not changing anything for anybody,” Barmore said.

Many immigrants lack multiple forms of ID, especially a Social Security card, that will likely hinder obtaining a license in DMV offices across the state.

Elsewhere, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns vowed not to issue licenses to illegal immigrants. Kearns went as far as sending a letter to the Erie County Attorney’s Office seeking legal representation in the event he is sued, the Buffalo News reported Tuesday.

Cuomo had long said he supported the measure but on Monday cast doubt on the bill’s fate, saying he was concerned that U.S. immigration officials might try to obtain state driver’s license data to target immigrants for deportation. He requested a legal review by the state solicitor general, who works for Attorney General Letitia James.

Supporters of the bill had dismissed Cuomo’s concerns as a red herring, and James herself quickly weighed in, though she said her office wouldn’t speculate on what federal authorities might do in response.

“Gov. Cuomo has supported this policy for over a decade,” Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement announcing his intentions. “The key to this bill is not the political intent but the legal effect. We hope the attorney general’s assessment is correct.”

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