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Local county clerk won't give licenses to undocumented immigrants, no matter what law says

ALBANY, N.Y. (WRGB) - A battle is already looming over the controversial bill that would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to get a New York State driver's license.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola says if the legislation passes, he won't abide by the law!

“I’m going to refuse to issue a driver's license to anyone who comes into my office that can't prove to us they're here legally. Federal law states we're not allowed to aid someone who comes into our office who is here illegally,” Merola said.

The Assembly Transportation Committee is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon. It's expected to pass both houses, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign it into law. Advocates say it would ensure safer roads and help grow immigrant communities.

Rennselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin says he believes this legislation is all wrong and is really a political move to give undocumented immigrants the chance to vote. He says he will support his county clerk in refusing to provide undocumented immigrants with licenses, no matter what the state law says.

“My approach is we're not going to give these licenses to illegal immigrants. People have already violated this law by breaking into this country and we view this bill as kind of waving all that,” McLaughlin said.

Bill A3675a/S1747a would allow undocumented immigrants to get a New York driver's license, using a foreign passport and without a social security number.

“Apparently you're breaking the law by driving illegally without a license and without insurance and we're not going to reward that behavior here in Rensselaer County,” McLaughlin said.

Under the New York State Constitution, the governor can oust a county clerk who does not uphold the state law. The Rensselaer County Clerk told us by phone he will accept the consequences if the law passes and he is reprimanded, telling us his wife is a naturalized citizen and he believes in upholding the federal immigration law. The county executive backs him all the way, saying this is the same stance the county took back when Governor Eliot Spitzer supported similar legislation.

“I’m not worried about the consequences, I mean sometimes you just have to stand up and do what you think is the right thing, and we think it’s wrong to reward illegal behavior,” McLaughlin said.

We called every county clerk office in the Capital Region today to see where our local officials stand on Green Light New York. Most clerks told us they are undecided.

Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner is the only other clerk locally whose taken a stance, he's drawn up this letter saying in part:

"I am opposed to legislation A3675a/A1747a. I respectfully ask the NYS legislature and the executive chamber to seriously consider the information provided within before acting."

Senator Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) also put out a statement today saying:

"Giving driver's licenses to those here illegally sends the wrong message to honest, law-abiding citizens and those who are trying to do the right thing and have been in line for quite some time to become American citizens."