As the federal government and New York continue a political battle over the state's Green Light Law and prepare to fight it out in court, federal law enforcement officials in Western New York presented a unified front Monday.
"This isn't about licenses," J.P. Kennedy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of NY, said. "This is about information and sharing information."
The Green Light Law grants people in the country illegally the right to apply for a driver's license. But it also restricts federal immigration agencies from immediate access to state Department of Motor Vehicle records.
"My understanding is, the fact of the matter is, for 49 other states, they can access that information," Kennedy said. "They can't access it for one state and that state is New York."
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security barred New Yorkers from enrollment or re-enrollment in trusted traveler programs that expedite international travel. Although a driver's license is not required to enroll in the programs and applicants must do an in-person interview with an officer, Customs and Border Protection said access to the DMV database is imperative to establishing an individual is "low-risk."
"We need to make sure that we do that full vetting and use all the tools that we have in our toolbox to make that assessment," CBP Field Office Director Rose Brophy said.
Although other federal agencies do have access to the data, immigration officials say they have signed an agreement not to share it.
"They have their agencies to operate," ICE and HSI Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly said. "There's not a holistic fix that is coming through right now. So the government does not have a holistic fix. The state has not given ICE or CBP a holistic fix to fix the dilemma."
Kennedy said the issues go far beyond border crossing, listing numerous ways DHS agents utilize DMV records to ensure public safety.
Kennedy, who has worked under Democratic and Republican administrations, said he typically avoids weighing in on arguments over legislation, particularly state law, but in this case felt compelled.
"This isn't about politics either," he said. "It's really not about politics. It's about public safety and it's about national security and that's what I'm concerned about."
State agency heads as well as local officials continue to argue this is a political action from the Trump administration.