Opinion

MEHLMAN: New York’s Amended ‘Green Light’ Law Is Absurd, And It’s Also Illegal

REUTERS/Kate Munsch

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR
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If you violate federal immigration laws and settle in New York, the state will give you a driver’s license (and lots of other benefits too).

If you work at the New York Department of Motor Vehicles and you comply with a request for information from either Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you could be charged with a Class E felony, be locked up for as long as five years, and forfeit many basic rights, including the right to vote.

That’s what it’s come to in the crumbling Empire State.

New York’s Green Light law, enacted in 2019, allows illegal aliens living in the state to get driver’s licenses, by presenting a variety of documents most of which New York has no means of verifying. The rationale for the law was to make the roads safer — which New York already had the ability to do by simply enforcing laws against unlicensed drivers — and to enable illegal aliens to get to jobs that they are explicitly prohibited from holding under federal law. “Logic” and “Albany” rarely appear in the same sentence for good reason.

The 2019 law also blocked ICE and USCIS from gaining access to data in New York’s DMV records, which could prevent the ability of these agencies to track down people with criminal histories or unexecuted arrest warrants. The law will also cause many law-abiding New Yorkers to lose access to federal trusted traveler programs, but that is by far a secondary concern to the folks in Albany.

But those concessions to immigration law violators were still not enough for the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Albany radicals strengthened the Green Light law’s protections for illegal aliens by adding a provision to the state’s 2020 budget that makes criminals out of any DMV employee or law enforcement personnel who share information with ICE or USCIS. Such public employees could be charged with a Class E felony, putting them in the same category with those who have been convicted of offenses such as theft, assault, forcible touching or aggravated harassment.

The amended law is not only further evidence that the folks in Albany have taken leave of their senses, but it is patently illegal. In language so clear that even a New York State legislator can understand it, 8 U.S. Code § 1373, enacted by Congress in 1996, states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration enforcement agencies] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

The fact that the amended Green Light law clearly violates federal law does not mean it won’t have a chilling effect on the people who work at the DMV or in law enforcement. What state employee is going to risk his or her job and pension, much less the possibility of being charged with a felony, in order to help ICE track down and remove a foreign national with a criminal record? In the end, they’d probably have their felony charges tossed out, but police and DMV employees tend to be civil servants, not martyrs.

If civil liberties groups, like the ACLU, still cared about protecting the law-abiding public from draconian and unconstitutional measures, such as the new and more draconian New York Green Light law, they would be rushing to the nearest courthouse to file lawsuits on behalf of the right of state and local government workers to respond to a legal request from a federal agency. But we are long past that point.

Instead, it will be left up to the federal government to respond in whatever ways it can – through withholding targeted federal funds from a state that is already drowning in red ink, or inconveniencing law-abiding New Yorkers who may just give up and join the millions who have already moved out of state (taking their tax dollars with them). In the meantime, wanted deportable felons will remain at large because New York officials have chosen to make felons out of cops and DMV employees who answer the phone when ICE calls.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).