ALBANY — The nation’s top immigration enforcement official say that New York’s new law allowing people who are in the U.S. illegally to get driver’s licenses goes far beyond other states’ measures in restricting his agency’s access to motor vehicle records.
In response to that law, the Department of Homeland Security blocked New York state residents from enrolling or re-enrolling in Global Entry and other “trusted traveler” programs that allow people to avoid long security lines at borders and airports.
New York then sued the department, and the Democratic governor called called the move to keep state residents from the program “political jihad” on Thursday.
But Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew Albence defended the move to bar New Yorkers from the programs, telling reporters Thursday that the new law’s restrictions could hinder his officers from assisting in ongoing criminal investigations involving stolen or wanted vehicles. Albence appeared at the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office alongside several state law enforcement officials critical of New York’s law.
A spokesman for Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said New York’s law still ensures law enforcement has access to the information it needs to do its job.
In its lawsuit, New York alleges that the move by the Trump administration was intended to punish the state for its law.
“They will hold one thing hostage to get what they want,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters, later adding: “And understand what they want: They want access to a database that has undocumented people who have done nothing wrong. If a person committed a crime, they have access to that database because the FBI gets it.”
Cuomo met with Trump last week to propose giving federal officials access to the state driving records of applicants to traveler programs who undergo a sit-down interview with federal officials and supply documents such as a passport.
The governor has said he’s awaiting word from Trump on next steps, but has said such a compromise would need legislative approval.
New York is among more than a dozen states that have passed laws allowing people who are not legal U.S. residents to get driver’s licenses.
But each state differs when it comes to whether and how federal immigration officials can access state motor vehicle records. Some states, like Nevada and New Jersey, have outlined restrictions for the release of driver’s license information to federal officials.
“It is really unclear and in most cases, state agencies don’t even know what kind of data is being shared,” said policy analyst Jamie Vimo of the National Immigration Law Center, which supported New York’s law.
New York’s law allows for the release of state motor vehicle records to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other agencies “primarily enforcing immigration law” under a judicial warrant or court order.
The state can also disclose limited records to an immigration enforcement agency working with city, state and federal agencies on non-immigration enforcement matters. Motor vehicle records can’t be used for “civil immigration purposes.”