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Federal Appeals Court Throws Out Legal Challenge To New York Green Light Driver’s License Law


For Immediate Release

November 30, 2020

Contact: Elianne Ramos, 212-739-7513, [email protected]

Federal Appeals Court Throws Out Legal Challenge To New York Green Light Driver’s License Law

Affirms Plaintiff Erie County Official Had No Legal Standing

New York, NY – On Monday, November 30, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision leaving New York’s Green Light Driver’s License Law in effect. The Second Circuit decision in affirming the Western District New York Federal District Court’s November 8, 2019 order dismissing Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns lawsuit finding he had no legal standing to challenge the law found that “Kearns suffered no concrete, particularized injury because he did not face a credible threat of claimed federal prosecution for processing applications for driver’s licenses.” Furthermore, he “failed to plead any injury in fact to his (County Clerk’s) office and lacked legal standing to raise any of the claims he brought in his lawsuit.”

New York’s Green Light Law was passed by the State Legislature in June 2019 and became effective in December 2019. The law permits undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses by expanding the types of qualifying identity documents accepted by the State Department of Motor Vehicles. The Erie County Clerk appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit and the Second Circuit appeals court heard oral arguments from the parties including NYS Attorney General Leticia James on May 13, 2020.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national not-for-profit civil right legal defense fund and the international law firm of Arnold & Porter filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief on behalf of four amici - New York Immigration Coalition, Hispanic Federation, Rural & Migrant Ministry and Neighbors Link Corp, in support of the NYS Attorney General’s defense of the Green Light Law. Our brief described how immigrant New Yorkers had benefitted from Green Light, describing how thousands of immigrant residents have been able to care for their families, attend religious services, travel to medical appointments, and attend to family needs while now driving without fear of arrest.

Prior to the Green Light law going into effect this past December, undocumented immigrant New Yorkers stopped while driving could face possible arrest, and devastating collateral consequences including detention and even deportation. An estimated 750,000-plus immigrant New Yorkers are now eligible to apply for driver’s licenses.

"Rural & Migrant Ministry celebrates the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that left the Green Light Law standing. The ability of farmworkers and other rural workers in rural New York to drive is essential to their well-being and to the economy of New York State" stated the Rev. Richard Witt, Executive Director of Rural & Migrant Ministry Inc.

“We are extremely pleased that Green Light remains legally whole, and will continue to provide thousands of immigrant New Yorkers an essential tool of mobility, respect, and liberty, especially the immigrant workforce supporting essential industries and services,” stated José Pérez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We are grateful that today’s appellate decision preserves the force of the Green Light Law which allows many undocumented New Yorkers and their families to benefit from a state policy grounded in public safety and fairness”.

"We deeply appreciate the decision of the court keeping New York's Green Light Law in effect,” said Frankie Miranda, President of Hispanic Federation. “This law allows undocumented immigrants and mixed status families to safely carry out daily and necessary tasks, many of which have kept our local economy moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hispanic Federation remains committed to doing everything we can to protect this important piece of legislation and the security it provides our society."

“Today’s ruling marked the third time a Federal court dismissed a challenge to the Green Light law,” said Murad Awawdeh, interim Co-Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “For nearly a year, this groundbreaking legislation has made New York’s roads safer, boosted our economy, and removed needless barriers to drivers’ licenses for countless immigrant New Yorkers. The New York Immigration Coalition will continue to fight alongside our partners to ensure this common-sense law is fully implemented in every corner of the State."    

We are pleased to see that the Second Circuit has dismissed this legal challenge to the Green Light Law, protecting the ability of all New Yorkers to get drivers licenses,” says Carola Bracco, Executive Director of Neighbors Link. “The majority of our clients live in areas without reliable public transportation and must drive to function. The Green Light Law has transformed their lives, enabling them to safely commute to work, to drive their children to school and doctor’s appointments, providing them independence that is even more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I am proud to have worked with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and our amicus curiae clients in order to provide valuable information to the Court about the tremendous impact the Green Light Law had since its enactment in December 2019 on the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. That impact is still felt today, even in the midst of the current pandemic, as these individuals may also now be essential workers in addition to being caregivers for their families. I am happy with the Second Circuit’s decision and what it means for the thousands of undocumented New Yorkers now eligible to apply for a license, especially now in the midst of this pandemic -- they can take sick family members to the hospital, drive to the grocery store, and otherwise engage in their communities in ways we take for granted,” said Kathleen Reilly, Partner, Arnold & Porter.


About LatinoJustice

LatinoJustice PRLDEF works to create a more just society by using and challenging the rule of law to secure transformative, equitable and accessible justice, by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. For more than 40 years, LatinoJustice PRLDEF has acted as an advocate against injustices throughout New York and beyond. To learn more about LatinoJustice, visit