Who Is Michael Kearns? New Details On The Erie County New York County Clerk And The Green Light Bill He Plans To Defy

Photo: Kearnsforclerk.com
Who Is Michael Kearns? New Details On The Erie County New York County Clerk And The Green Light Bill He Plans To Defy
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Michael Kearns, formerly a member of the New York State Assembly who was elected County Clerk of Erie, New York, announced that he would not be complying with the controversial new New York State law passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo called the “Green Light Bill,” which allows undocumented immigrants the right to obtain driver’s licenses. The bill was passed into law on Monday, June 17 after being approved a week earlier.

What’s there to know? Who is Michael Kerns?

1. Kearns is not alone.

Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski is also on board with Kearns’ opposition. Jastrzemski is reaching out to other county clerks in the western part of the state to build a coalition of opposition of the new law. “I’ve spoken to some of the clerks today,” Kearns said. “We’ve sent a lot of money to the State of New York. There's different ways that we can let them know and make it heard what we are doing.”

2. His disapproval is rooted in a reluctance to raise taxes.

Kearns is concerned with what the law will mean for his office because the bill neglects to include funding for staff training to spot forgeries, extra security in anticipation of many more people at DMVs, and deciphering documents from 195 different countries. “The taxpayers of Erie County are going to have to subsidize the bill,” he said. He expects his opinion will receive backlash, but he believes he is doing the right thing.

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3. The goal is to make roads safer and the economy better.

With this bill, at least 200,000 people in the country illegally will be applying to get a license. Advocates say it’ll make the roads safer and push people who are driving illegally to obtain auto insurance. Supporters seem to recognize that this legislation will largely be taken advantage of in upstate New York and Long Island, where public transportation options are more limited.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat, has explained, “By passing this needed legislation, we are growing our economy while at the same time making our roads safer. This is the right step forward for New York State as we continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.”

4. Kearns that he expects to face a lawsuit over his noncompliance.

Kearns plans to file a legal challenge to the law in the U.S. District Court as it applies to the Erie County Clerk. He’s asked for County Attorney Michael Siragusa to represent him in that lawsuit. He wrote, “I anticipate being sued in either event. As a result, I intend to file a declaratory action in the United States District Court challenging the law as applied to the Erie County Clerk, and I request your representation in this lawsuit and in supporting the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

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Legislators who support the bill have said that the governor can fire county clerks if they don’t issue the licenses.

“County clerks were elected to do a job, which is to uphold the law and to do their jobs lawfully and once this bill gets passed and signed into law they’re expected to do their job,” said Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Gov. Cuomo, who publicly supports the effort, has been raising a new concern in the past week: that federal immigration offices will seek to obtain the license information on such immigrants and potentially deport them.

6. During the floor debate, Senator Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat, had a savage response to detractors of the bill.

Senator Daphne Jordan of Saratoga County asked during the debate: “Why do these immigrants choose to remain undocumented, when they could become documented?” She argued that county clerks won’t be able to verify the documents foreigners bring to get their licenses, which, to me, just seems to imply that our system is inherently flawed if the people in charge of this job can’t successfully verify documents. Jordan asserted that supporters of the bill were voting “for fraud on the scale New York has never before seen.” Senator Luis Sepulveda, a Bronx Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, added that “theoretically,” that some migrants might try to use licenses to register to vote, but called the worry about voter fraud “a fantasy” because doing so would break the state’s strong election laws. In response, Senator Jessica Ramos retorted: “Careful, your xenophobia is showing.”

Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health. She draws inspiration for her writing from writer/director Wes Anderson, and for her lifestyle from her grandmother. Lastly, she's always actively seeking two things: a job having anything at all to do with publishing, and a chance to meet Jesse Eisenberg.