James wins challenge to Green Light Law

In this Aug. 6, 2020 photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question at a news conference in New York.
Associated Press /Kathy Willens, File

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday won a court appeal protecting undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants’ ability to legally obtain driver’s licenses.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York on Tuesday upheld a lower, or district, court decision that dismissed a lawsuit brought by New York’s Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns that would have blocked the law, known as the Green Light Law, from taking effect last year.

“The Green Light law is legal and enforceable, and today’s decision marks the third federal court to dismiss challenges brought seeking to enjoin the law,” James said. “This law provides protections to all New Yorkers by making our roads safer, growing our economy, and allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows to sign up as legal drivers in our state.

“As the state’s attorney and chief law enforcement officer, I am proud to have vigorously defended this law and will continue to do so against all who oppose it,” she added.

Last November, US District Judge Elizabeth Wolford granted a motion by James to dismiss this lawsuit, which was the subject of the appeal.

Additionally, last December, James won dismissal of a separate lawsuit brought by New York’s Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola — who also sought to block the Green Light law from taking effect — in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York.

New York State Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie, whose grandmother hailed from Jamaica, welcomed the implementation of the law giving undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants the right to obtain driver’s licenses.

“This is a major victory for immigrant rights, and will also improve street safety, lower insurance rates for drivers and bring in as much as $50 million in revenue to the state each year,” said the representative for the 20th Senatorial District in Brooklyn, home to a significant number of Caribbean immigrants.

“We encourage you to spread the word about the new law; and, if you have any questions about it, reach out to our office so we can help,” Myrie told constituents.

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) noted on its website that the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, commonly called the “Green Light law,” was enacted on June 17 last year.

“It allows all New Yorkers age 16 and older to apply for a standard, not for federal purpose, non-commercial driver license or learner permit regardless of their citizenship or lawful status in the United States,” it said.

Under the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, DMV said driver license applicants who have never been issued a Social Security Number are eligible to apply.

“You must sign an Affidavit (sworn statement) of never having been issued a Social Security Number when you apply for a standard driver license,” it said.

DMV said all applicants for a standard driver license must show a combination of documents that prove their name, date of birth and New York State residency.

In addition to the combination of other proofs, the DMV said it will accept unexpired foreign passport issued by immigrants’ country of citizenship; a valid, unexpired consular identification document issued by a consulate; a valid foreign driver license that includes a photo, and which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months; (and) Permanent Resident Card, which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months.

It said it will also accept Employment Authorization Card, “which is either unexpired or expired for less than 24 months”; Border Crossing Card; US Municipal ID Card (that is, NYC ID) with photo; foreign marriage or divorce record, or court issued name change decree; and foreign birth certificate.

“If you do not have proof that you have a Social Security Number, been issued a Social Security Ineligibility Letter by the Social Security Administration or have proof of your lawful status in the US, your standard driver license will not comply with the federal REAL ID Act,” DMV, however, warned applicants.

“In accordance with the law, all licenses that do not meet REAL ID standards are marked ‘not for federal purposes,’” it added.

In addition, the DMV said undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants must pass a knowledge test to get a driver permit and then pass a road test before getting a driver’s license.

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