The View From Albany
One of the more controversial pieces of legislation signed into law last year was the “Green Light” Law, allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.
Presented by its supporters as the “same law” adopted in other states, New York’s version contained a provision that prevents the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other border-protection agencies from accessing records contained in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – something no other state does.
I voted against the “Green Light” Law because the thought of giving a driver’s license, a secure identification document, to someone who is intentionally breaking the law was inconceivable.
Now we are seeing additional consequences of this bad public policy – putting law enforcement agents
and the public at risk while shielding criminals from detection.
Recently, I joined with members of the state Senate and Assembly for a special DHS briefing detailing how New York’s law is blocking law enforcement agencies from receiving critical information.
According to a fact sheet provided by DHS:
• New York State’s “Green Light” Law prevents U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) from accessing all New York DMV information. This includes driver’s license information essential to our law enforcement and national security missions.
• By restricting access to all DMV information, the “Green Light” Law stands as a dangerous and unnecessary roadblock to ongoing federal investigations into a broad range of criminal activity, and severe impediment to our officers and agents in the field.
• ICE is not asking the State of New York to provide a list of illegal aliens, or to identify which individuals in its database are here illegally. ICE needs access to the information – just like all other law-enforcement agencies that work in the state – whether the subject of our inquiry is a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or illegal alien.
• Seventy percent of joint terrorism task force disruptions stem from arrests for immigration violations, yet the agency responsible for those arrests is now frozen out of New York DMV databases. This is a pre-9/11 mentality in a post-9/11 world.
•ICE’s need to access DMV records is essential to supporting criminal investigative efforts not only in New York, but also across the country and around the world. Our ability to identify and dismantle transnational criminal organizations – whether they’re flooding our communities with killer drugs like fentanyl and meth, trafficking weapons, peddling sensitive military technology, or selling women and children into miserable lives of sexual servitude – depends on getting the right piece of information into the right hands at the right time. And often, that piece of information is as simple as a license plate, and address, or a photograph.
The statistics back up the importance of the long-standing, cooperative relationship between ICE and state DMV. On a daily basis, ICE uses DMV data to fight a substantial number of crimes including drug smuggling, human trafficking and violent gang activity. In 2019, ICE arrested 149 child predators, seized 6,487 pounds of illegal narcotics, identified or rescued 105 victims of human trafficking/exploitation, and arrested 230 gang members – in New York alone.
The new law has also handcuffed local law enforcement. The state Sheriffs’ Association recently issued a letter to the governor and legislative majorities pointing out that for the sheriffs to keep their own officers safe by allowing access to DMV data, they had to sign non-disclosure agreements that jeopardize their federal partners.
Sharing of information is a critical component of law enforcement. New York State has taken an irresponsible action by enacting a law that blocks information from those who need it most. The “Green Light” Law has a number of flaws and must be repealed immediately.
Senator Seward, R-Milford,
has represented Otsego County
In Albany since 1984.