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Green Light Law takes effect in Monroe County and across New York state

James Brown/WXXI News
Adam Bello, as Monroe County clerk, oversees local DMVs which are implementing the Green Light Law as of Monday. As Monroe County executive-elect, he will inherit a lawsuit against the Green Light Law come January 2020, which was filed by the current county executive Cheryl DInolfo.

The Green Light Law took effect on Monday in New York state. The law allows people who do not have social security numbers to apply for drivers’ licenses, which will help people who are undocumented immigrants. 

New York is now the 13th state to enact such a law. Anu Joshi with New York Immigration Coalition says it is win for immigrant New Yorkers.

“Every time an undocumented parent has to make a decision about whether or not to drive their child to the hospital or a doctor’s appointment or risk being pulled over and at worse detained and deported is a heartbreaking moment,” Joshi says.

The law has sparked controversy. Earlier this year Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo filed a lawsuit against New York state over the law. According to her office, that case has been extended to January, when county executive-elect Adam Bello will assume office. 

Bello, who is currently the county clerk and oversees Monroe County DMV's, says the lawsuit was “unwise.”

“I think we have issues with economic development, and everything else and I just think this is not a wise use of our resources here,” Bello says.

He adds that while DMV fees will bring in revenue, with a low turnout on the first day of the law taking effect, he’s not sure how much that will impact the local economy.

“As I see how this played out today, really only seeing seven new people really being able to come in to apply for a driver’s license, I think that economic impact remains to be seen,” he says.

However Emma Kreyeche with Workers Justice Center of New York says that while there is excitement, there is also an air of caution within immigrant communities, which she says could explain the low numbers.

Only standard licenses will be issued, and are not able to be used for federal purposes.

Bello says that while other county clerks in the state have opposed the measure, he intends to stick with state law.

“Whether we have philosophical concerns with it, our jobs as county clerks is to follow the law,” he says.

Kreyche says that the new measure is a landmark moment for immigrant communities.

"The ability to access basic amenities, to access medical care, to even get to the grocery store and back. Those are things that are tremendously difficult without a driver’s license especially in our rural communities."

Bello says that his previous concern over how local DMVs will process different types of foreign documents, has been quelled by state action.

“New York state has given us scanners and this equipment that allows us to scan in these new types of IDs and I think really pretty much anything that people bring in we can scan and it will tell us what that is and make sure it looks for what should be on those documents,” he says.

Jennifer Connor with Justice for Immigrant Families says that advocates are encouraging anyone eligible for a license under the new law to avoid DMVs where employees have said they will not comply with the law.

"The only thing we are warning people about is just to watch out for scams and frauds. You shouldn’t be paying anybody who doesn’t work for the DMV any money before you walk in the door to apply for a license,” she says.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.