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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit challenging NY immigrant license law

ALBANY — A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a state law that allows people in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford said Erie County Clerk Michael “Mickey” Kearns lacked legal standing to challenge the “Green Light” law. Kearns had filed his claim in the U.S. District Court of Western New York in Rochester.

Kearns, a Democrat, asserted the state law was in conflict with federal immigration laws.

Kearns said the state law “compels clerks across the state to be an instrument to violate federal law.” He had asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional and block it from taking effect in December as scheduled.

Wolford said just because Kearns opposes the law doesn’t give him legal standing to file suit. She also rejected his claim that he might be prosecuted for violating federal law if he processed such applications for driver’s licenses.

“It is apparent plaintiff disagrees with the Green Light law," Wolford wrote. "But the mere disagreement with a duly-enacted state statute does not entitle anyone -- even an elected official -- to seek intervention from a federal court.”

Wolford continued, “rather, plaintiff must have suffered a legally cognizable injury. To the extent [Kearns] bases his theory of injury on a credible threat of prosecution against him individually, he fails to meet his burden to establish standing.”

Kearns said the ruling essentially was about the technical issue of standing and not the actual merits of his claim.

“Nothing was resolved today. The court declined to rule on merits,” Kearns said in a statement. “Any claim of victory by the governor or the attorney general are hollow. We still don’t know whether the Green Light Law is constitutional. The judge did not tell me I have to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

Kearns said he was evaluating his options for appeal.

 Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office referred calls for comment to Attorney General Letitia James, who said: "Today’s decision reinforces our position all along — the Green Light law is legal and enforceable … That’s why the claims made in this lawsuit not only disregarded these simple truths, but were misinformed and disregarded the privacy rights of New Yorkers." 

The driver’s license bill was approved in June, with the Democrat-dominated Assembly and Senate voting largely along party lines. Cuomo said he was concerned about whether federal immigration officials would be able to access drivers’ information and use it for deportation purposes, raising the possibility of a gubernatorial veto.

Eventually, Cuomo signed the bill into law, making New York the 13th state to allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain licenses.

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