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U.S. Attorney says NY's Green Light Law jeopardizes public safety

Chris Caya/WBFO News
Vehicles enter the U.S. from Canada at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo on Monday. U.S. Attorney James Kennedy says CBP can no longer check the license plates on New York vehicles due to the Green Light Law

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing the Trump Administration over banning state residents from trusted traveler programs. The administration says the ban is needed because under the Green Light Law, Homeland Security can no longer verify NEXUS and other applications against the state DMV database. Now, Western New York's top federal prosecutor is speaking out against the law, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.

U.S. Attorney James Kennedy met with reporters at the Peace Bridge on Monday to talk about the Green Light Law's impact since it took effect in mid-December. Kennedy says it's not about politics, it's about public safety and national security.
"I don't typically have occasion or need to speak to legislation, especially state legislation, where that's up to state lawmakers. But where the actions of state lawmakers impede our ability, my ability, to do my job, then I am compelled to speak. And that's what this is about. This isn't about politics."

Kennedy said the "disturbing truth" is, under the new statute, Customs and Border Protection is barred from checking license plates on New York vehicles entering the U.S. from Canada.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
U.S. Attorney James Kennedy and Homeland Security officials met with reporters in the Port of Entry Building at the Peace Bridge, Monday

CBP Buffalo Field Office Director Rose Brophy said accessing DMV records is critical.    
"We are public servants. Our number one priority is the security of this nation, the public that travels through our borders and, in my opinion, our officers' safety. And without that critical information upon arrival at the port of entry or when we're processing individuals in our trusted traveler program, we don't have the adequate information to do our job and to do it effectively and safely," Brophy said.  

Kennedy said Homeland Security also works well beyond the border and that federal officers investigate an array of crimes including gun trafficking, cybercrime and child exploitation.   
"When they're sitting out on surveillance they can't run a plate to know who's in a particular residence that's under surveillance. They can't run vehicle registration information when they pull somebody over in the middle of the night on a dark deserted highway and don't know who they're coming up to whether that person might be wanted for murder because they can't even identify who the registered owner of the vehicle is. It's an extremely dangerous situation," Kennedy said.  

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino was among the local leaders voicing concerns about the ban on New York residents applying for trusted traveler programs

On Monday morning, before Kennedy spoke out about the law, local elected leaders and transit officials joined those who say the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to ban New Yorkers from joining Trusted Traveler programs like NEXUS and FAST was a political move.

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said he would rather see a conversation on the bill happen than see his community hurt by the ban.

"If a conversation has to be had on the other issues, then please engage in that conversation. Don’t penalize New York businesses and don’t cripple communities that are trying to make sure that they can grow and continue to grow in their local economy,” Restaino said.

NFTA and Peace Bridge officials say the ban will likely impact the 60% of the truckers who use the FAST program to cross the border. Restaino says slower crossings for truckers will make it difficult to attract shipping and warehouse companies to the area.


Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.
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