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Some county clerks confused by, opposed to law allowing undocumented immigrants driver's licenses

WRVO News File Photo
Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus, right, is seeking clarification and interpretation from state and federal officials regarding a new state law that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.

The recently passed Green Light Act will allow undocumented immigrants in New York to apply for a driver's license with foreign passports, consular identification documents, and foreign driver's licenses. These changes won't take effect until December, but Seneca County Clerk Christina Lotz says as of now, she does not plan to comply.

"It's not the right law we should be upholding," Lotz said. "When you go into a motor vehicle office, you have to have a birth certificate, you have to have a Social Security card, you have to have proof of your address. If these individuals come in and they don’t have that information, I’m supposed to issue them a license but yet I had to turn you away because you don’t have a Social Security card? That’s where we are being put."

Lotz says she and several other county clerks in the region she has spoken to are opposed to the new law, in part because of the burden it will place on their offices to process unfamiliar foreign documents.

"How do we prove that it’s true and how do we prove that it’s an original and how do we prove that person is who they say they are," She asked. "What are these documents going to be in? How are we going to translate those? We’re not trained to do that."

Lotz and Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus are also worried because they took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which makes Congress the ultimate authority on immigration.

"Predominantly, these are folks that are not legally in the country and that brings up a whole bunch of other questions," Backus said. "I have some concerns about that and whether the state is infringing upon that federal rule."

Backus wrote to President Donald Trump this week asking for the U.S. Justice Department to review the law. New York State Attorney General Letitia James recently said it is constitutional and they will defend it in court if necessary.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.