Court says New York cannot suspend licenses of illegal immigrants

| 5/10/2005

A state judge ruled against New York May 10, saying the state cannot suspend illegal immigrants’ driver’s licenses.

Judge Karen S. Smith ruled that the state DMV cannot impose “a legal presence requirement or any immigration status as a condition of a drivers’ license,” according to a written statement from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sued the state.

“The DMV cannot be an enforcer for the DHS,” the judge wrote in her ruling. “It simply lacks the expertise and, more importantly, it has not been empowered by the state legislature to carry out that function.”

In March 2004, Raymond P. Martinez, commissioner of the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, announced his agency would match Social Security numbers provided by driver’s license applicants with federal information. If the records didn’t match, the driver’s license could be revoked.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that 7,000 people lost their licenses, and eventually, 300,000 were expected to be revoked.

On Feb. 17, Smith ordered the state to stop.

However, the state appealed Smith’s initial order, and state officials said the appeal filing would effectively suspend the judge’s order, allowing the department to move forward with continued suspensions. Groups fighting the decision reject the state’s assertion.

That part of the argument, at least, was settled March 2, when Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli of the state appeals court ruled that the state was no longer bound by the order. However, she did so after a state lawyer said the Division of Motor Vehicles would be advised not to suspend any more licenses.

The case wound up back in Judge Smith’s courtroom in early April.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor