WAMPSVILLE — Madison County Clerk Michael Keville laid out his concerns over new the new Green Light law — on both its implementation and its ramifications.
The new state law makes it so that a Social Security card is not needed to apply for a driver’s license or permit, among other things. The legislation is response to policy changes on immigration in the federal government. The Green Light law allows applicants to apply regardless of citizenship or lawful status in the United States.
Just recently, Keville said, someone just recently applied at the DMV for a license and did not need to show their Social Security card, instead just writing down the number.
“We never saw any proof that was their Social Security number,” Keville said. “We’re taking it on faith and it’s going into the system as their Social Security number. For their first, original license.”
When asked, Keville said there had been no change of policy like this in the past nor a change of policy this sweeping and rapid.
“The state’s response has been that long before the implementation of this law, hands-on training was offered,” Keville said. “That’s a bald-faced lie. The state issued no communication until 13 days before implementation of the law. If you live in a world where 13 days of forewarning is ‘long before’, you must be an infant.”
The changes were issued, he continued, through a one-hour webinar in which he nor other clerks could not ask questions. “It was like drinking from a fire hydrant,” Keville said. “It was not a training, it was a communication of what the changes were going to be and there were 150 changes.”
This many changes at one time is not normal, Keville said, but changes do happen from time to time.
“Usually, when the state makes changes, it’s one or two at a time. Just two months ago,” he said. “New York State completely changed the registration form for registering vehicles. It was a terrible change and horribly rolled out. Transactions that normally required one form suddenly required three different forms. This change that’s made to the primary registration form through the Green Light Law added two question boxes that made applicants go to another form. It was a total mess and that was just five changes. And it wreaked havoc on every DMV office, state, and county.”
Keville argued that some of the changes done by the state could have been rolled out as early as June until its full implementation in December instead of all at once.
“The only change that was required by law was to allow someone to get driving privileges without a Social Security or a letter from Social Security Administration stating they’re not eligible,” Keville said. “That was the only thing that wasn’t necessary. When you remove the Social Security element, now an undocumented person can get a driver’s license.”
Another change that was made to accommodate undocumented persons was to the verification of a foreign birth certificate or passport.
“Before, if you had a foreign passport, the DMV had to see an INS stamp and see you legally came through Immigration Naturalization Services” Keville said. “Without the stamp, the DMV couldn’t accept it. In addition, if you’re accepting a foreign birth certificate or passport, the DMV would have to go through a federal vendor called SAVE. We’d fax the person’s information and receive back a case number verifying this individual is in this country legally and the government is aware of their presence in the country.”
On top of this, Keville said the legislation requires the DMV not to make any record of what was presented.
“The actual name of the law is the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act. That ‘privacy’ part is what frustrates law enforcement,” Keville said. “It shields records and requires the destruction of records within six months of the application being received. It also requires the DMV to not record any information being presented and that’s a big change in policy.”
Keville said he felt the state wasn’t just trying to give driving privileges but create a sanctuary state. “There’s no trail for law enforcement to follow,” he said. “And I can’t emphasize enough how significant a change in procedure this is. The problem is that there was no acknowledgment that there are criminals out there. In a utopia, this would be great if there was no such thing as crime.”
The opportunity for fraud, Keville said, is endless. While he trusts his office and there have been no fraud cases at the Madison County DMV, Keville said there’s the opportunity for those working at a DMV to issue a license fraudulently — and after six months, Keville said, there would no paper trail.
“There’s going to be no proof of what that clerk saw to issue that license,” Keville said.
Even then, there’s no protection for the clerk just doing their job, Keville said. If someone comes into the DMV with fraudulent documents and a clerk issues a license, the only evidence the state will have is that the clerk issued a fraudulent license.
“They have no way to defend themselves,” Keville said. “I have great issue with that.”
Keville said he believed the new regulations were not created by DMV commissioners or the legislators, but rather the advocates of the bill.
“It was communicated to me that it was not just done at the DMV, it was done ‘across the street’ which is in reference to the legislature,” Keville said. “I can tell from speaking with people, the legislature understands nothing about what we do at the DMV. They held no hearings, never consulted with county clerks and did very little if any consulting with DMV staff.”
Keville recalled a situation in Chautauqua County that demonstrated how seriously the DMV took security.
“Several years ago, the Chautauqua County clerk was getting a lot of boat registrations from Pennsylvanians who were bringing their boats to New York because they had a camp in Chautauqua County,” Keville said. “When you register a vehicle in New York state and live out of state, you have to provide six points of proof of your identity. A Social Security card was worth two points and an out of state driver’s license was worth two points. And then, they’d have to come up with two more points.”
A lot of people would come to the Chautauqua County clerk’s office, Keville said, and not be able to register a boat and was forced to drive home and find more documents.
“The Chautauqua County clerk asked the state DMV if they could change an out of state license worth four points, the same as a United States passport,” Keville said. “New York state responded pretty quick and said it would be a security risk to increase an out of state license to four points. And that was several years ago.”
Now, an out of state license is worth four points — the same as an out of country license, a consular ID card and a foreign passport without regard to the INS stamp.
“I don’t think those were worth anything before,” Keville said.
Other items now accepted for six points of identification include a permanent resident card that’s been expired for no more than 24 months, an employment authorization card that’s been expired for no more than 24 months, a foreign marriage or divorce record or court issued name change or a foreign school report card or school record with photo. Each one of these items is worth two points.
“It’s almost laughable until you think of how someone can use this to criminally get a New York State issued identification document,” Keville said.
Keville was one of more than half of all county clerks with DMV responsibilities calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to delay the implementation of the Green Light Law until Oct. 1, 2020. At a meeting with the Madison County Board of Supervisors, Keville asked the board if they’d stand with him against it.
What Madison County will do, Keville said, is work its best to ensure everything is legitimate.
“If somebody comes in and all six of their points are a hodge-podge of one and two point things, we won’t accept that. We’re going to ask them to come back when we can have a field investigator present and they are the one to say okay,” Keville said. Other counties are taking drastic action, such as Duchess County. Duchess County will only be issuing licenses to those who live in Duchess County, legal or illegal.
“I don’t want anyone on my staff to be put in a position where they’re issuing a document without verifying or vetting what’s been presented,” he said.
According to the advocacy group Green Light NY website at https://greenlightnewyork.org; “...expanding access to driver’s licenses would allow families to drive safely and move with security on the road. Having a valid driver’s license and form of identification would significantly decrease the chances of immigrant residents being turned over to Border Patrol when pulled over by police, and stop families from being separated.”
Other benefits cited in a press release include an estimated $57 million in annual state and county revenue in registration fees, sales taxes, and gas taxes; plus $26 million in one-time revenues as more people obtain licenses, buy cars, and register vehicles.
“Dec. 16 will be a historic day for New York’s hard-working immigrant community,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “After waiting 18 years to have their right to drive restored, New York — thanks to the leadership of the Legislature — can now officially join 12 other states in making drivers licenses legally available to all its residents. With Governor Cuomo’s support, we expect our communities to fully exercise their rights to apply for a Standard Driver’s License. Just like everyone else, immigrant New Yorkers will take a driving course, prove their residency, take the official driving test, get their cars inspected and buy car insurance. This will help all New Yorkers to get to work, take our kids to school, turbocharge our economy and increase public safety for all New Yorkers.”