The New York action appears to be one of the Trump administration’s most significant retaliatory moves against “sanctuary” cities and states that limit local cooperation with immigration enforcement. President Trump this week blasted sanctuary jurisdictions during his State of the Union address and pledged to encourage efforts against such “deadly practices,” which he blamed for the murders of U.S. citizens and others and said allow unauthorized immigrants to avoid deportation.
New York’s “Green Light Law,” which went into effect in December, allows undocumented immigrants — who do not have Social Security numbers — to obtain valid state driver’s licenses. The law limits the state from sharing data related to the licenses with federal immigration authorities. The New York licenses provided to undocumented immigrants also do not meet federal REAL ID standards — unlike the state’s standard driver’s licenses — and cannot be used to board domestic airline flights in any case.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, on Thursday accused New York state’s Democratic lawmakers of imperiling residents’ safety with its sanctuary policy and said the administration could go after other states with similar consequences if they seek to limit immigration agents’ access to driver’s license data.
“I know that the state of Washington is looking at a law like New York’s ‘Green Light Law,’ ” Cuccinelli said. “They should know that their citizens are going to lose the convenience of entering these Trusted Traveler Programs, just as New York’s did.”
Participation in Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs, which are administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows for expedited processing upon arrival into the United States, and it is limited to international travelers with valid passports and proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.
Applicants must also submit to fingerprinting, an interview and a “rigorous background check,” according to CBP. They also are required to provide vehicle information if they intend to drive across the border with Mexico. But a driver’s license is not required to apply in many cases.
Cuccinelli said CBP officials need access to state Department of Motor Vehicles license data to properly vet applicants.
“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?’ ” Cuccinelli said.
Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf announced the policy change during a Wednesday appearance on Fox News. Wolf told host Tucker Carlson that he sent a letter to the New York State DMV informing the agency that the state’s new limits on information — sharing with CBP made it impossible for DHS to properly vet applicants for the Trusted Traveler programs.
“Although DHS would prefer to continue our long-standing cooperative relationship with New York on a variety of these critical homeland security initiatives, this Act and the corresponding lack of security cooperation from the New York DMV requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS’s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised,” Wolf wrote.
In addition to major international airports, New York also has busy border crossings with Canada, where drivers and pedestrians who cross frequently use the nation’s traveler security programs.
DHS officials rely on DMV data to obtain criminal records, corroborate addresses and physical characteristics, and obtain vehicle and property data, Wolf wrote.
By prohibiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from obtaining license plate data, even for suspects with violent criminal records, the sanctuary laws are placing federal officers at greater risk, he wrote.
Wolf also told the New York DMV that vehicle exports from the state will face significant delays because the sanctuary policies do not allow the government to verify the ownership of used vehicles being shipped abroad.
Cuccinelli told reporters Thursday that checks on vehicle exports would no longer occur automatically, and that New York would now have to do things “the old fashioned way.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, blasted the administration’s move as “purely punitive,” and said “it has nothing to do with security.”
“It is clearly a blatant attempt by the White House to score political points and perpetuate a partisan fight with New York elected officials,” Thompson said Thursday, noting that the administration announced it on Fox News before notifying New York state officials of the move.
The Trusted Traveler Programs exist to “improve security and travel efficiency,” Thompson said. “Congress needs to respond to this abuse of power — we will not stand by while this Administration repeatedly plays politics with our homeland security.”
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), voiced his support for the administration, urging his state to repeal the Green Light Law “before the federal government is forced to take further action.”
Numerous Democratic-led cities, counties and states have adopted varying degrees of “sanctuary” status during the past decade, but activists and Democratic lawmakers say the Trump administration’s aggressive policies to jail and deport undocumented immigrants — particularly those with no prior criminal records — has lent urgency to the policies’ passage.
And New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), speaking Thursday on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, accused the administration of reacting to its policy with “unbounded arrogance” and “disrespect of the rule of law.”
Sanctuary rules typically bar local law enforcement from detaining people beyond the end of their criminal sentence or the terms of their bond; sanctuary supporters see such detention, which is not mandated by law, as an act of assistance to immigration agents who wish to take the person directly from jail for deportation. Some cities and counties have been found liable in federal court for violating a plaintiff’s constitutional rights in such cases and have been compelled to pay damages.
Trump administration officials say local authorities’ refusal to comply with ICE requests means local authorities are willfully releasing dangerous felons and that ICE field operations become more dangerous.
An ICE agent in Brooklyn got into a “scuffle” with 26-year-old Eric Diaz and shot him in the face Thursday while trying to take his mother’s boyfriend into custody for deportation, ABC News Channel 7 reported.
Trump, in his State of the Union address, invoked the recent murder of an elderly woman by an undocumented immigrant who had twice been subject to detainer requests in New York.
“If the city had honored ICE’s detainer request, his victim would still be alive today,” the president said.
Authorities in sanctuary jurisdictions such as New York, Washington state and California say their law enforcement agents will detain an individual on ICE’s behalf only if the agency presents a warrant signed by a judge. Officials in those jurisdictions also have countered Trump’s claims that the policies endanger the public, noting that existing research has demonstrated no link between illegal immigration and crime, and arguing that community trust in law enforcement is more valuable to public safety than cooperation with ICE.
More expansive sanctuary rules in some jurisdictions — like the Green Light Law — have limited information-sharing and other communications with immigration officials, for fear that the information could be exploited to target immigrants.