The “Green Light Law,” which went into effect in December, allows unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in New York and limits immigration authorities’ access to that license data. The Department of Homeland Security contends it needs access to state DMV information to properly vet applicants to its Trusted Traveler programs, which allow certain U.S. citizens and permanent residents to enjoy expedited entry into the United States when they return from international travel.
The government’s move to terminate New York’s access to the programs is expected to affect 175,000 New Yorkers by the end of the year, as well as slow down vehicle exports from the state.
Cuomo (D) on Friday described the administration’s action as “extortion” and “an abuse of power,” and he likened it to President Trump’s withholding military aid to Ukraine while asking Ukrainian authorities to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
“There is supposed to be a line between politics and government. You’re not supposed to be using government as a political tool,” Cuomo said at a news conference that veered from criticizing Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine and the president’s vitriolic celebration of his impeachment acquittal to the announcement of the lawsuit.
“You can’t use federal money to extort Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden” just as you cannot “use the government to come up with an arbitrary policy that hurts hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to make your political point” on immigration, Cuomo said, addressing Trump, in his comments to reporters.
“Extortion is wrong. Abuse of power is wrong. It was wrong in Ukraine and it’s wrong here. And we’re going to sue the federal government.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) will argue that DHS has “violated New York’s sovereign immunity, not provided our residents with equal protection and is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner that denies the rights and privileges of all New Yorkers,” Cuomo’s office said in a statement.
In his remarks to reporters, Cuomo attributed the administration’s move to Trump’s anger at the state’s decision to give driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants, just as several other states do.
Wolf tweeted his response to Cuomo’s news conference: “I made clear to the Governor yesterday that suspending Trusted Traveler Programs for NY had nothing to do with drivers licenses and everything to do with the breakdown in information sharing.”
“The reality is the New York law has a crippling impact on the integrity of these travel programs, and without access to New York records systems, our personnel are unable to conduct risk assessments to screen-out criminal histories,” Wolf wrote.
Acting DHS deputy director Ken Cuccinelli told reporters Thursday that “the problem isn’t so much the document itself. It’s the barring of access by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles to our ability to see, for instance, do you have a fugitive warrant? What’s your criminal record?” Only the DMV can provide the most up-to-date answers to those questions, he said.
Cuomo said the state provides all of its DMV data to the FBI.
“If Homeland Security wants access to our database, just go to the FBI, who they work with all the time, and the FBI has the entire database,” he said.
He also noted that a driver’s license is not required to participate in the Trusted Traveler programs.
“It is pure politics,” he said.