Montgomery County eyes joining federal lawsuit

FONDA — The Montgomery County clerk is seeking to have the county join a federal lawsuit that is questioning whether following New York state’s Greenlight Bill goes against federal immigration laws.

Brittany Kolbe would like Montgomery County to join a Rensselear County lawsuit that is in the works which seeks clarification that if clerks who abide by the state law due to be enacted in December to issue undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses, would then break the federal immigration laws that dictate that if someone is in the United States illegally, they do not have the right to obtain a driver’s license

“The lawsuit isn’t necessarily against the Greenlight Bill, it’s more of — as county clerks, when we take our oath, we swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the laws of the state of New York,” Kolbe said. “Unfortunately, there’s many of us in the Clerk’s Association who feel that the Greenlight Bill conflicts with federal law which then puts us in a bad position because now, while we’re following the state law, we think it might be conflicting with federal immigration law. So, we would like a judge to let us know if this law conflicts with federal law so that we are abiding by our oath, and hopefully not breaking any laws.”

Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns recently filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction blocking the law until it is constitutionality reviewed. Defendants in the lawsuit include Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder.

Kolbe said Kearns filed as the county clerk rather than as a county.

“Which that is not what we’re looking to do,” she said. “We’re actually looking to file as a county. I’ve spoken to our county executive, he’s publicly stated already that he’s behind me.”

Kolbe would like to join in on the Rensselaer County’s lawsuit, which hasn’t been filed yet. She said she is still waiting on the county attorney to gather all the information and send it to her. Once she gets that information, Kolbe, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and Montgomery County Attorney Meghan Manion will look over all the information to make sure it is definitely something they’d like to join.

The next step would be to write a resolution and present it before the Montgomery County Legislature, which would then either authorize the county to enter into the lawsuit with Rensselaer County or deny the request.

“I have talked to a couple different attorneys, I have spoken with the county clerks association, other county clerks and listened to what they think. I’m a new clerk, I’ve only been on the job for six months, so this is a very big issue for me to be facing six moths in, so I’m treading carefully,” Kolbe said. “I want to make sure that everything is done lawfully and done by the book. I know some other county clerks have just come out and said ‘we’re not doing it.’ I did not say that. I won’t say that because that would be in violation of my oath and we can be removed as county clerks — the governor can remove us from office if he feels that we’re not fulfilling our duties or following the laws of the state of New York. And I love my job.”

The Greenlight Bill, which would allow immigrants to obtain their New York state driver’s license, does not take effect until December.

Kolbe said if any individuals in December come in and want a driver’s license, she will send any paperwork directly to the state DMV in Albany first to have that office approve the paperwork.

“Another factor in this Greenlight Bill is that our staff are not trained at all to be able to look at these foreign documents and determine whether they’re fraudulent or not,” Kolbe said.

Once those documents are sent to Albany, and if they come back and say the person is qualified, then Kolbe said her office would issue them a driver’s licence.

Kolbe said she does not let her own personal beliefs regarding the Greenlight Bill or any other personal opinions affect how she operates the office.

“I think that it is wrong as elected official to allow personal opinions to dictate whether [to] abide by the law or not. That’s not okay. We swear an oath, and when you swear that oath whether you agree with the law or not, you still have to follow the law,” Kolbe said.

By Patricia Older

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