County DMV moves Green Light signs after criticism

Sinnott Gardner

Signs at the Otsego County Department of Motor Vehicles office in Oneonta mentioning a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses and learning permits that were previously next to signs with the tip line for Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been moved, as of Monday, Jan. 6. 

Each of the three front windows of the Oneonta DMV still had an ICE sign as of Monday afternoon. However, signs that used to be directly next to them reading “Due to the Green Light Law we are now required to have proof of residence for any original permit, license or non-driver I.D. Please see form ID44 for acceptable proofs,” weren’t there Monday afternoon.

Identical signs, minus the mention of the Green Light Law, can be seen on the side and at the back of the room.

Multiple calls and an email to Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner, whose office oversees county DMV operations, weren’t returned by print deadline. An Oneonta DMV employee said all questions needed to be directed to Sinnott Gardner.

Otsego County District 14 Representative Jill Basile, D-Oneonta said said she believes the ICE signs are meant to intimidate undocumented immigrants to keep them from lawfully obtaining licenses. She said she’s also seen ICE tip lines in the Cooperstown DMV.

“If I were to put myself in those shoes, would I go into the DMV office where ICE signs were displayed?” Basile said. “That’s the question I’m asking myself.”

Basile said concerned constituents had contacted outgoing Otsego County Representative Gary Koutnik around the end of December. Koutnik forwarded those emails to Basile and Koutnik’s successor, Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, Basile said.

She said she encourages those concerned with the ICE signs at county DMVs to reach out to Sinnott Gardner.

In a Thursday, Jan. 2 email to The Daily Star, Lisa Koumjian, assistant commissioner of communications for the state DMV denounced the placement of ICE signs in the Oneonta DMV. 

“In regards to the ICE signs, Clerk Gardner’s fear-mongering ploy to keep customers she dislikes out of her offices doesn’t change her legal obligation to issue licenses and permits to eligible applicants,” Koumjian wrote. “Like all public officials, she is obligated to carry out her duties properly and fairly. As we have previously stated, if any clerk doesn’t wish to do so, they should resign their position.”

Basile said she’s emailed Sinnott Gardner stating her position on the matter, not only as a board member but as an Otsego County citizen. In her email, she said she questioned how long the signs have existed and what their purpose is. 

Oliver in a Friday, Jan. 3, Facebook post said he reached out to Sinnott Gardner with his concerns about the signs as well. 

The Green Light Law, which took effect Monday, Dec. 16, allows anyone of eligible age in New York state, regardless of citizenship or lawful status in the country, to apply for a driver’s license or learner permit, according to the state DMV’s website. The law doesn’t allow non-United States citizens to register to vote in the state. 

Twelve states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have similar laws, according to a July 2019 statement by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. 

“This legislation will not only provide undocumented immigrants with a legal solution to obtain a driver’s license, but its positive impacts will include significant economic growth, improved road safety, and keeping hardworking families together,” Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, D-the Bronx, said in a June 2019 state Senate media release.

Though it’s uncertain why the signs were moved, Basile said “hopefully as an elected official, (Sinnott Gardner) is listening to those that have reached out to her.”

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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