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ICE chief slams New York's Green Light Law

Lucas Willard / WAMC
Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence speaks in Troy Thursday.

The acting head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made a stop in the Capital Region today to take a stand against a New York law that prevents immigration officers from accessing state motor vehicle information. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed the press conference as political theater.

“Let us in! Let us in!”

Demonstrators were ready at the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office in Troy, where inside Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence was preparing to outline the federal government’s concerns with New York’s so-called Green Light Law.

The law went into effect in December. It allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license and also bars federal immigration authorities from accessing state Department of Motor Vehicles records without a judicial order.

Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo introduced Albence as protesters pounded on the windows.

“Prohibiting of federal agencies from accessing the New York State DMV database hampers law enforcement’s ability to protect our citizens of this county, this state, and this country,” said Russo.

The location is no coincidence – the Rensselaer County Sheriff participates in a 287(g) agreement, allowing trained staff inside the county jail to act on behalf of federal immigration authorities.

Surrounded by law enforcement and other local Republican officials, Albence claimed the restrictions in New York’s Green Light Law were included “solely for political purposes.” He said New York’s law is the only in the country that includes such restrictions.

“As a 25-year law enforcement professional, it is unfathomable that information which could be used to prevent crime or a potential terrorist attack, is purposely being withheld in this state – the same state that less than 20 years ago suffered the worst terrorist attack on American soil,” said Albence.

The 9/11 attacks were mentioned frequently Thursday as officials argued denying access to information – like vehicle registration, photos, and addresses – puts the public in danger.

In response to Albence’s visit, Cuomo pointed out that other federal agencies, like the FBI, still have unrestricted access to DMV information. Backers of the Green Light Law fear the federal government will use DMV information to round up and deport the undocumented.  

“So anyone that committed a crime, the FBI knows," he said. "They want just undocumented people who are living peacefully, have not committed a crime, are not violent – so they can disrupt families and continue their political jihad.”

Cuomo met earlier this month with President Trump at the White House to discuss another matter related to the Green Light Law: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has barred New York residents from participating in federal “trusted traveler” programs due to the DMV database restrictions. State Attorney General “Tish” James, a Democrat like Cuomo, has filed a lawsuit over the matter.

Albence maintains that access to the state DMV database is most valuable in a dangerous situation.

“So we run 5,000 checks a week," Albence said. "Do you think we’re going to be able to pick up a phone and call the FBI in New York, ‘Hey can you run a tag for us?’ When you talk about information, it’s not just getting the information, it’s getting it real-time.”

Albence brought up the late December attack at a rabbi’s home in Rockland County where five were stabbed. He said federal immigration officers encountered a roadblock when searching for the subject, who was ultimately stopped by police in his vehicle in Manhattan.

“Our officers were responding to that. We couldn’t run that tag. We had to call one of our task force officers to run it for us," he said. "And you know when we got that information? An hour and a half later. What the hell good does that do to law enforcement at that point?”

A former Republican state Assemblyman and a frequent critic of the Cuomo administration, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin predicted Cuomo could not compromise with the federal government with the current law in place.

“Unless the governor can do this through executive order, which highly I doubt, this would have to go all the way back through the legislature,” McLaughlin said.

And that may be unlikely, with Democrats in charge of both houses of the legislature.

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