The state Department of Motor Vehicles has condemned the placement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement tip line signs next to signs mentioning the Green Light Law in the Otsego County DMV in Oneonta.

The Green Light Law, which took effect Monday, Dec. 16, allows anyone in the state 16 years and older to apply for a driver’s license or learner permit, regardless of their citizenship or lawful status in the country.

Another sign in the Oneonta DMV states it won’t process any applications under the Green Light Law, pending formal training. Oneonta DMV employee Barb Dulkis said the training already happened but that the Oneonta DMV isn’t obligated to process applications under the Green Light Law because the county’s other DMV in Cooperstown is doing so.

Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner called the issue “old news” and said the ICE tip line signs have been up for 20 years. She declined to answer further questions, including why ICE tip line signs were placed directly next to signs at the Oneonta DMV 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.”

“While Clerk Gardner may choose to process permit applications in only one office within the county and not another, as an agent of the NYS DMV and as mandated by law, she must process those transactions for all eligible customers,” Lisa Koumjian, assistant commissioner of communications for the state DMV wrote in a Jan. 2 email to The Daily Star.

Neither the DMV nor the county clerks who run DMV offices can ask an applicant about their citizenship or lawful status, she wrote.

“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.”

Dulkis said she and the other Oneonta DMV employees would have preferred more comprehensive training than the one-hour powerpoint presentation they were given.

“I don’t consider comprehensive training to be sitting watching a Power Point, not being allowed to have discussion, not being allowed to handle documents,” Dulkis said. “We want hands-on training. How do you verify documents and the authenticity of them? We don’t see these types of documents up here.”

Dulkis denied that the placement of ICE tip line signs directly next to signs mentioning the Green Light Law is an intimidation tactic. She said the placement in each security window at the office is for customer convenience. 

“People come up to the register to ask questions,” she said. “That’s where the majority of the signs are. When people open the door they come right up to us. They don’t turn around and look around the wall.”

She added that one of the signs could be moved, but two would remain up front. 

Under the law, there are also privacy protections that limit data sharing including to agencies that primarily enforce immigration laws, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicle’s website. It also requires that license holders are made aware when when immigration enforcement agencies request data from the DMV, according to the website.

Longtime Oneonta resident Marty Van Lenten Becker said she and other members of the Grey Matters Social Action Group at First United Methodist Church in Oneonta are taking action to get the signs removed. 

“What they’re saying without saying it is, they’re asking other county residents to spy on people and report people because they have overheard their conversation with the clerk, which you’re not supposed to be listening to anyway,” Van Lenten Becker said. “To me it’s just outrageous.”

Van Lenten Becker said she’s reached out to Otsego County Representative Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta about the signs. Oliver said within the next day or two, he will send an email to Sinott-Gardner expressing his concern over the placement of the signs and their existence there at all. 

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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