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Green Light Law Denies ICE and Border Patrol Access to New York’s DMV Database

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The Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act, better known as The Green Light Law went into effect on December 16, clearing the way for undocumented immigrants to apply for New York State driver’s licenses

The law, enacted last June, allows New Yorkers age 16 and older to apply for driver’s licenses without providing Social Security numbers and identifying documents such as foreign passports. As an added layer of privacy protection, the law also includes a provision that bars state DMV officials from sharing its data with agencies that enforce immigration law, unless so ordered by a judge.  These entities include the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection or CBP, which regulates the U.S.-Canada border. Before this change in legislation, ICE and Border Patrol used Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) information to discover if a vehicle owner had an arrest warrant or other criminal history on file.

The Green Law dispensed with New York’s post-9/11 policy of preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining driving privileges. Under this law, even if the DMV is required to share information with federal agencies, it must give notice to the vehicle owner being investigated within three days.

Green Law supporters like Anu Joshi, the New York Immigration Coalition’s senior director of immigration policy, say the legislation’s privacy measures have a positive impact for all residents of the state, regardless of immigration status.

“We should be clear that this law doesn’t just protect the data of undocumented immigrants; it protects the data of all New Yorkers who are applying for a standard license,” Joshi said, “It treats all New Yorkers who are applying for a standard license the same.”

The NY DMV website outlines limitations of the law. For instance, the Green Law does not apply to non-driver ID cards or commercial licenses (CDL), nor will it change voting eligibility or provide a pathway to citizenship.

Initial response from federal authorities was highly critical of the legislation, which they say hampers their efforts to maintain public safety. “New York’s Green Light Law is detrimental to CBP and ICE,”  said acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said in a statement. “The information we receive from New York state is vital to our missions, and blocking federal law enforcement officers from accessing it creates a significant threat to both officer and public safety.”

In early December, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legislative changes — specifically the Green Law’s provision denying access to federal immigration officials without a court order. DOJ called the measure ‘legally suspect’ and alleged that it violates federal law. The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe.

New York is one of 15 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, that issue driver’s licenses and permits to those without legal documentation. Initial reports indicate that New Yorkers turned out in droves to apply for driver’s licenses. 

Cassandra Etienne is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in New Jersey. Her multimedia and documentary projects reflect an interest in cultural reporting, and in covering social issues such as civil rights, women's health, and education and healthcare reforms.