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GOP senators try to force vote on repealing Green Light law

Senate Republicans on Tuesday planned to offer an amendment to repeal New York’s Green Light law, which permits undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.

The law has caused friction with the federal government because the law also blocks access to New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles database. Because of that, the Trump administration recently restricted access to Trusted Traveler programs for New Yorkers. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, among other federal agencies, say they need to see data from New York’s DMV to vet applicants for programs like Global Entry and NEXUS.  

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, who met with border patrol officials on Monday, said the problem is even more dire. He said the agents told him that without the data, they are hampered in their fight against terrorism. 

“One of the people there said absolutely that people are going to get hurt,” Flanagan warned. “They also stressed that the DMV database is the absolute start point of everything. Without that, they have a hand tied behind their back. They can’t do their jobs properly.” 

Flanagan said while 12 other states allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses, only New York has put deep restrictions on the use of its DMV database by other law enforcement agencies.  

He said the law needs to be reversed. 

“We’re offering an amendment to repeal this law,” said Flanagan, who added that Democrats in state government are “undermining public safety.”  

The Green Light Law is one of the signature pieces that the Democratic-led Legislature approved in 2019, and many Democrats are reluctant to make changes. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried negotiating with the federal agencies to reach a compromise. He said he told the agencies that they could have driver’s license data for New Yorkers applying for the Trusted Traveler programs, or TTP. And he said he’s skeptical that they need the DMV data to fight crime, and has asked federal officials to detail their claims. 

“You have a theory by which we are interfering with criminal enforcement? Explain it to me,” Cuomo said. 

The governor said he thinks the real reason the Trump administration wants access to the DMV database is to make it easier to deport undocumented immigrants. And he said he’s never giving over that data.  

“First rule is, there is no access to the database for immigration purposes,” Cuomo said. 

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, said in an interview with public radio and television that she does not want to see the Green Light law altered. She said her western New York constituents, who frequently cross the border into Canada, are affected by the standoff, though.

Peoples-Stokes said the real solution is to get rid of the current president. 

“I don’t know how you talk to a guy who can’t always have a rational discussion,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It’s always about how do you pay somebody back for something. That may have worked in his business life, but it really doesn’t work well for government.”

She said she hopes that the country elects a new president in November.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.