ICE chief slams New York’s Green Light law

TROY — The nation’s top immigration enforcer assailed New York’s law blocking his investigators from accessing driver license records Thursday, arguing the so-called Green Light law has weakened the war on terrorism.

“This is a pre-9/11 mentality in a post 9/11 world,” said Matthew Albence, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Real-time data

Flanked by a cadre of county sheriffs, municipal police and federal prosecutors, Albence strongly disputed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s claim that ICE would use state motor vehicle data for a massive effort to deport undocumented immigrants.

Albence also contended Cuomo mischaracterized the intentions of ICE.

“We do targeted enforcement actions,” Albence said. One day earlier, Cuomo had claimed immigration agents would use DMV data to catch “fish in a barrel.”

“I don’t need the state of New York to tell me who is here illegally and who is not,” said Albence. What his agency does need, he said, is access to “real-time data” so investigators can be nimble in responding to crimes.

Albence recalled how immigration investigators responded to an all-points-bulletin in the New York City area in December after a man armed with a machete stabbed and slashed five people in a Rockland County synagogue, and were hampered due to their inability to run license plates.

Building blocks

The tenor of Albence’s comments suggested there is no quick resolution in sight to the stalemate between the Trump administration and Cuomo over the government’s decision to keep New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler programs that expedite border crossings.

Cuomo has offered to provide the federal agencies with limited motor vehicle data, for Trusted Traveler applicants only.

Albence explained the New York law has stripped investigators of an essential “tool,” noting ICE typically retrieves data from DMV computerized records more than 5,000 times a week, with most of those checks linked to investigations arising outside New York.

“The building blocks of any investigation are the identification of the individuals involved in the crime,” Albence said, noting DMV records provide photographs, addresses and other data that can significantly advance a probe and help investigators zero in on suspects.

Out to get criminals

While Green Light advocates point out New York is now among 15 jurisdictions allowing undocumented immigrants to get licenses, New York is the only state that locks immigration and border police out of the DMV data, Albence said.

Also voicing strong objections to the Green Light law were U.S. Attorneys James P. Kennedy Jr. (Western District of New York) and Grant Jaquith (Northern District of New York).

“The only people we’re out to get are criminals,” said Kennedy, adding that the crimping of collaborative data-sharing has jeopardized public safety.

“Political jihad”

As a group of about 70 pro-immigrant protesters chanted “Abolish ICE” outside the Rensselaer County Jail, Kennedy said the blockade on information harms the ability to probe child exploitation and human trafficking at the nation’s northern border communities.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, a former state lawmaker, said he believes very few of the legislators who supported the law read it before voting for it.

McLaughlin also suggested Cuomo is not in a position to negotiate with the federal government since the law has already been enacted. He contended lawmakers who are in session now should immediately revisit the legislation.

Cuomo, at an event in New York City, dismissed the chorus of law enforcement complaints with the Green Light law, calling the criticism a continuation of “political jihad.” He also repeated his contention that ICE wants to use the data to round up undocumented immigrants who are “living peacefully.”

Stefanik view

State lawmakers approved the Green Light bill in June 2019, following the release of a Siena College poll that found just 41 percent of voters were in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for licenses. The polling question made no reference to the feature of the legislation that police groups find most objectionable — the block put on the ability of federal immigration agents and Border Patrol officers to run New York license plates.

Patrick Phelan, president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and the chief of the Greece Police Department, said many state troopers have confided they are vehemently opposed to New York’s shutoff of information to the federal agents. However, the State Police are controlled by Cuomo, inhibiting their ability to make their thoughts known to the public, he acknowledged.

One congressional critic of the Green Light law, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-North Country), said New York should scrap the statute.

“The Green Light Law will result in injury or worse to ICE, CBP and Border Patrol officers who are trying to do their job to keep our communities safe by stopping human and drug trafficking across our border and heinous crimes against children,” she said in a statement.


Joe Mahoney covers the New York statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers, including the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, with which the Enterprise shares news articles.