ALBANY — With legislation that would let undocumented immigrants qualify for driver's licenses gaining support, the measure's author says he is open to deleting a provision that would bar police from accessing motor vehicle registry information.

The proposed amendment to the bill written by Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-the Bronx), now the subject of ongoing negotiations, is aimed at knocking out one of the major objections raised to the proposal from law enforcement executives.

Sepulveda told CNHI he wants to make sure the final version of the bill would block federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators from getting access to licensing data in order to try to deport immigrants.

"New York is already one of the states that has opted out of sharing Department of Motor Vehicles records with other states," Sepulveda said.

"Our biggest concern is that this information not be provided to ICE. If there is a traffic stop, we want to make sure it doesn't lead to a mother being separated from her child for a couple of years."



The senator said he has filed new legislation that calls for the removal from office of county clerks who refuse to process license applications from undocumented immigrants, acknowledging that proposal is in response to a recent CNHI news story.

That article quoted Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski as saying he would reject applications from such immigrants and instead have his staffers refer them to state-run motor vehicles offices.

"These clerks (who oppose the "green light" measure) are pandering to the worst element of their communities," Sepulveda said. 

Jastrzemski, contacted in Lockport, said by rejecting applicants who lack what are now the necessary qualifying documents for getting a license, he will be protecting the integrity of New York's licensing system.

"It's so easy for these illegals to get forged documents that they can give to our staff," he said, noting the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had acquired fraudulent identifications.

"I believe I have a right to refuse somebody who is breaking the law and not in our country under the guidelines."



In another new development, the State Sheriffs Association has opted, at least for the time being, to stay out of the debate, after a couple of upstate sheriffs came out in support of the legislation.

Many more sheriffs have signaled their opposition.

Meanwhile, advocates for the measure are planning a major rally at the statehouse May 21 and have launched a public relations blitz with ads on cable television stations.

They have their work cut out for them, given that a Siena College poll released in March showed that 61 percent of those queried in the statewide survey opposed making undocumented immigrants eligible for licenses.

The idea was more palatable among Democrats, with 49 percent supporting the proposal, though opposition was intense in the upstate region.



Donna Lieberman, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said supporters want to convince New Yorkers that the roads will be safer if undocumented immigrants can get licenses and insurance for their vehicles.

"You shouldn't have to break the law in order to provide for your family or to engage in the basic necessities of life," Lieberman said.

"Driver's licenses shouldn't be a tool to harm immigrants. They should be a tool to make sure people know how to drive and have the necessary insurance."

Among those who have signaled their opposition to the measure are Sens. Betty Little (R-Queesbury), Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) and Jim Seward (R-Milford).

But the pushback against the proposal has lessened considerably over the time when a similar policy was advanced in 2007 by then Gov. Eliot Spitzer.



While the battleground remains Albany, the current debate drew input from one congressional critic of the proposal, Congressman John Katko, (R-Camillus).

"Rather than legitimizing illegal immigration, policymakers at all levels of government should be focused on creating a comprehensive solution on immigration that balances the needs of our economy, immigrants and their families, and strong national security," he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing safety concerns for his three daughters, told a public radio interviewer last week he plans to sign the legislation should it pass both houses in Albany.

“I have three young daughters, youngish, two graduated college, one going to her junior year of college," he said. "And they’re out there driving every day, and I’m waiting up at night like most parents, waiting to hear the door close before I can go to sleep."

The legislative session is slated to conclude June 19.

Sepulveda, without revealing numbers, said he believes there are enough Senate votes to pass the measure. A companion bill sponsored by Assemblyman Marcos Crespo (D-the Bronx), is expected to pass easily.


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