DHS gives New York the red light for state's green light law

DHS gives New York the red light for state's green light law
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You’d think the No. 1 job of New York state officials would be keeping New Yorkers safe. Yet in their battle with the Trump administration over the state’s “Green Light Law,” they’re actually placing their residents in greater danger.

It’s bad enough that, thanks to the law in question, they’re providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Now, however, a New York law prohibits the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from disclosing any driver’s license information to any agency that “primarily enforces immigration law.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. But New York is the only state to prohibit information sharing between its DMV and immigration enforcement agencies. In an attempt to thwart the work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), New York is now obstructing criminal investigations and preventing New Yorkers from joining travel facilitation programs. 


New York City has been in the news for its egregious sanctuary policy, whereby the city releases known criminal aliens onto the street rather than turn them over to ICE for deportation. City officials and Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDemonstrations rage across the country Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO MORE have been blasted recently for ignoring ICE’s request to turn over a Guyanese man after his arrest for assaulting his father. After NYC released the 21-year-old onto the streets, he raped and murdered a 92-year-old woman.

Despite cases like this, New York’s so-called “Green Light Law” states that the state’s DMV commissioner “shall not disclose or make accessible in any manner records or information” that the DMV maintains to “any agency that primarily enforces immigration law” unless a judicial warrant or court order is signed by an Article III judge.

What’s more, the law requires the commissioner, no later than three days after receiving a request for information from an immigration enforcement agency, to notify the individual that the named immigration agency requested information about the individual.

Surely this law was aimed to prevent ICE from enforcing immigration laws, but the consequences are broader and even more serious. ICE combats transnational gangs, drug smuggling, human trafficking, child exploitation, and more. New York’s law hinders investigation of these crimes, which makes New Yorkers far less safe. 

Also, by requiring the DMV to notify a potential subject of investigation that a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency requested information about them, New York is aiding potential criminals by tipping them off.


What is likely an unintended consequence of this law is that New Yorkers who want to participate in a DHS trusted traveler program for faster, easier travel, such as Global Entry, are now prevented from getting the benefit. CBP, the administrator of such programs, uses DMV information to validate that an applicant qualifies for the low-risk status. Without New York DMV information, CBP cannot appropriately complete the benefit adjudication.

This trusted traveler consequence also affects New York commercial truck drivers. They cannot join or re-enroll in CBP’s FAST (Free and Secure Trade) program. DHS reports almost 30,000 commercial truck drivers are enrolled in FAST at four New York-Canada ports of entry. Historically, New York has complained quickly, loudly and consistently when travel and trade are slowed at their ports, but New York is doing this to itself.

A February 5 letter from DHS Acting Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfHundreds of migrant children, teens deported under pandemic border policy: report Trump administration finalizes indefinite extension of coronavirus border restrictions   US-Mexico border restrictions extended to June 22 MORE to the New York DMV acting commissioner stated that New York residents will no longer be eligible to enroll or re-enroll in CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs due to the lack of DMV information that helps determine eligibility. 

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOvernight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus Cuomo: New York City on track to start reopening week of June 8 MORE has called the change announced in the letter retaliation for passage of the Green Light Law. But New York, and any other state contemplating a similar law, should consider what also could be at stake.

Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attack in NYC, New York and DHS have had a strong homeland security relationship, with significant dollars and resources flowing to New York through homeland security and other federal grants. For Fiscal Year 2020, NYC plans to receive $6.6 billion in federal categorical grants. The $8.3 million Port Security Grant is an example of a DHS-administered grant.

When politicians in Washington, D.C., discuss a potential decrease in any New York homeland security grant money, New York politicians demand more money — in the name of security. Why should DHS continue to give American taxpayer money to New York for security when New York won’t even cooperate with the agency responsible for security? Small wonder that the president’s FY2021 budget, released Monday, proposes statutory language to allow DHS and the Justice Department to condition certain grants on requirements that recipients cooperate with federal immigration enforcement activities and requests.

With its Green Light law, New York has returned to a pre-9/11 posture of refusing to share information with federal law enforcement. With travel facilitation programs halted and grant money in jeopardy, cooler heads in the New York legislature need to see the light and amend its law.

Lora Ries is a senior research fellow for homeland security at The Heritage Foundation. She was the acting deputy chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security. Follow her on Twitter @lora_ries.