ALBANY, N.Y.  – New York’s liberal Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo was admonished by a progressive group Tuesday for subverting an unpopular new law allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for state driver's licenses.

Cuomo signed the so-called Green Light legislation earlier this year even though public opinion polls show most New Yorkers and county clerks who issue the licenses oppose the law.

But Stephen Choi, director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the governor "and his staff have done everything they could to undermine it."

The criticism came after Cuomo said in a public radio interview “I am the left” and yet he’s concerned the federal government will try to acquire New York motor vehicle database information to deport people in the country illegally.

Cuomo, who at times has had a tense relationship with hard-left Democrats in the legislature, also said he defines being progressive as "making progress," not by "having aspirational goals with no realistic plan or knowledge or analysis."

The immigration coalition's Choi dismissed that argument.

"We hope the Governor will stop the charade of scaring hardworking immigrants into staying in the shadows by continuing to evoke the ICE boogeyman," Choi said. "If he has that much time on his hands, we can think of plenty of things he still needs to do before the summer ends."

The Green Light law takes effect Dec. 14. It has been formally challenged in federal court by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, a Democrat. Many of his clerk colleagues around the state oppose the measure. And statewide polling shows most New Yorkers also are against it, with opposition strongest outside of New York City.

The lawsuit maintains federal law overrides the new state law, which county clerks content violates their oath of office by requiring them to issue driver’s licenses to illegals. The suit names Cuomo and state Attorney General Letitia James. The latter has said the law meets constitutional standards.

Advocates for extending licenses to undocumented people argue the law will improve public safety and addresses the fact that hundreds of thousands of undocumented people are working in New York and need to drive to support their families.

Cuomo said he’s supported making undocumented immigrants eligible for licenses for more than a decade. But now, he added, he anticipates President Donald Trump, a native New Yorker, is "going to get more aggressive" in seeking access to state motor vehicle databases.

"You'll see it play out in the courts, whether or not a state can stop the federal government from accessing its law enforcement databases," the governor said. "It's going to be a very tough legal question."

Joe Mahoney is the CNHI state reporter for New York. Reach him at

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