Politics

‘We Had To Take Action’: Administration Explains Why New York’s ‘Green Light’ Endangers Public Safety

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says it had no choice but to make New York residents ineligible for the government’s Trusted Travelers Programs, arguing that the state’s new sanctuary law jeopardizes the safety of the programs.
  • New York passed what is known as the “Green Light” bill in 2019, which allows illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses and bars CBP and ICE from accessing state DMV data. 
  • In order to be approved into the trusted travel programs, CBP must verify one has not had a DUI or any other aggravated traffic offenses, which is information that can only be obtained via state DMVs.

Customs and Border Protection said the decision to suspend enrollment in the Trusted Travelers Programs for New Yorkers was a matter of national security, following the state’s decision to withhold DMV data.

The Department of Homeland Security announced late Wednesday that it would begin denying New York residents enrollment into the government’s Trusted Travelers Programs, which grant expedited processing to those who enter the country. The move was in response to New York’s newly implemented “Green Light” law, which prohibits state DMVs from sharing information with the CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A CBP spokesman on Thursday said New York authorities never reached out to discuss the law with its agency. Once the rule went into effect on Dec. 14, 2019, CBP immediately began to be negatively impacted.

“What the law does, in part, is to deny [CBP access to New York state DMV records], which we’ve had access to for as long I can remember here,” said Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations for CBP. “These are programs where the applicants are deemed low risk, and once we’ve done that we afford them expedited processing when they enter the country – either through the airports, the land border, or the sea ports.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenbergin Monsey, in New York on December 29, 2019. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenbergin Monsey, in New York on Dec. 29, 2019. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

“To be eligible, CBP must be satisfied that you’re a low-risk individual, that there’s no criminal records, no issues of concern in your application. We do this by vetting the application through the various law enforcement databases that are out there, that we routinely use,” Owen continued.

The issue for CBP is that, when vetting candidates, there is certain information that officials can only obtain from state DMVs. Specifically, New York’s Green Light law denies the agency access to DUI and aggravated traffic offensive records — offensives that would make an individual ineligible for the Trusted Travelers Programs.

“So if derogatory information exists on the applicant in these areas — in the DUI, in the aggravated traffic offenses — we no longer have visibility into that. So we can no longer determine if they are eligible to join the low-risk Trusted Traveler Programs,” Owen said. “So because of this we had to take action, and we could not let people into the program that have not been properly vetted.”

Allowing New York residents to continue applying, CBP argued, would jeopardize the security of the programs altogether.

There are various Trusted Traveler Programs available: Global Entry, FAST, SENTRI and NEXUS. New Yorkers already enrolled in the program will remain on, but they will not be able to reapply when their five-year program ends. This means about 86,000 New York residents will be immediately affected by the directive, but many more will feel the pinch as the years progress. (RELATED: Homeland Security Chief Orders Review Of State Laws Allowing Driver’s Licenses For Illegal Aliens)

Around 150,000 to 200,000 New Yorkers will be impacted a year. Around 800,000 will be affected over five years.

“Until we are able to retain our access to the state DMV records, New York residents that are trying to apply for the Trusted Traveler Programs or renew their membership — as well New York registered title vehicles that are trying to exported — they’re going to be at an impact with all of this,” Owen explained.

New York authorities, for their part, have indicated they will challenge the directive in court.

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