ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, defending a controversial law that prevents federal law enforcers from accessing computerized records of New York drivers, contended Wednesday immigration officials would misuse the data in order to deport undocumented immigrants.
"It would be like shooting fish in a barrel," Cuomo maintained on a public radio broadcast. "You could go deport people right from the DMV database."
The governor's comment came on the eve of a visit to New York by a top federal immigration official who is expected to lay out the Trump administration's case for New York to resume the sharing of Department of Motor Vehicle data with agencies involved with border security.
Matthew Albence, acting director of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is slated to meet Thursday morning in Troy with leaders of the New York State Sheriffs' Association, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin and Rensselaer Sheriff Patrick Russo.
Rensselaer County is the only New York municipality that participates in a federal program authorizing local police officers to enforce immigration laws.
ICE and the federal Department of Homeland Security have branded New York's Green Light statute, which allows undocumented immigrants to get licenses and stops the sharing of the license data with the federal agencies, a "sanctuary" law that has put national security at risk.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security, citing the New York move to block federal agencies from getting the license data, barred an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers from new enrollment and renewals in federal Trusted Traveler programs that allow enrollees to quickly cross borders and airport security checks.
Cuomo met with President Donald Trump and other federal officials at the White House last week in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to end a stalemate that has inconvenienced numerous people in northern New York who regularly enter Canada.
McLaughlin, an outspoken opponent of the Green Light law, said New York's actions are now having a negative impact on commerce, delaying the transport of newly manufactured vehicles into Canada.
Cuomo said he would let the federal agencies access the New York motor vehicle data of people joining the Trusted Traveler programs. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has not limited its demand to that information.
"The governor is completely ignoring the facts," McLaughlin said. "With what is going on now, you could have a member of the MS-13 gang who is in this country illegally murder someone after getting a New York license and then get in a car and drive away into Canada."
Cuomo, echoing the viewpoints of Green Light supporters, said the new law has improved highway safety by encouraging undocumented individuals to pass driving tests so they can become licensed.
An analysis of the New York law, issued last week by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit conservative think tank, concluded the statute "significantly undermines the federal government's efforts to secure our borders."
Applicants for the licenses are now afforded an opportunity to create new, "clean" identities with official New York documents that will "make it easier for them to act on their nefarious intentions," the analysis found.
The law is also opposed by numerous county clerks operating local motor vehicle offices through arrangements with the state, including Niagara Clerk Joe Jastrzemski, Clinton Clerk John Zurlo and Otsego Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner. The Rensselaer County clerk, Frank Merola, has been involved in ongoing litigation aimed at upending the Green Light law though so far judges have upheld the statute.
Peter Kehoe, director of the New York State Sheriffs' Association, said the federal officers involved in border security need access to the DMV data for criminal investigations, not routine check on immigration status.
CNHI reported in January the state DMV office and the Division of Criminal Justice Services advised local police agencies across New York that they had to sign an agreement not to share the motor vehicle data with federal immigration enforcers or their own access to the DMV photo system would be blocked. Dozens of agencies initially had their access stopped, though it was restored after police executives signed the agreements.
That situation was referenced in a statement from the New York State Sheriffs' Association.
"We find it offensive that, in order to avail our own deputies of DMV data that they need for their own safe operations, we are coerced into signing a nondisclosure agreement that jeopardizes the safety of our federal partners," the association said.
Cuomo maintained the Trump administration is fomenting opposition to the New York law to create "division" and "fear."
"There is no rational basis to stop the Trusted Traveler programs," Cuomo said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com