ALBANY – County sheriffs across New York today called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders to end an “unwise” provision in a new law that has restricted access by federal immigration and border agents to state motor vehicle records.
The local law enforcement officials said a new state law is jeopardizing the safety of federal immigration authorities.
The letter from the New York State Sheriffs’ Association came a couple of hours before Cuomo is scheduled to meet President Trump at the White House about the ongoing dispute over the availability of state motor vehicle records by federal authorities.
The association of sheriffs noted that many of its members opposed the Green Light Law, the measure passed in 2019 that gave migrants in the country illegally the right to obtain a state driver’s license.
That measure also includes provisions limiting federal access to DMV records on the premise that Cuomo and proponents of the law did not want such migrants being intimidated away from taking driver’s tests and getting legally licensed to drive.
The law enforcement group did not strongly oppose the Green Light Law, it said Thursday, “because we recognized that was more of a public policy issue within your purview, than a law enforcement issue within ours."
“However, the provision of that law which effectively denies federal immigration officials access to state Department of Motor Vehicle records is a law enforcement issue, and one about which we feel compelled to express our opposition and deep concern," the group wrote to the state government leaders.
The group said sheriffs have a long tradition of cooperating with federal law enforcement efforts, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Now, however, the new Green Light Law bars sheriffs from sharing DMV data with federal authorities, which “jeopardizes the safety” of federal agents.
“We find it offensive that, in order to avail our own deputies of DMV data that they need for their own safe operations, we were coerced into signing a nondisclosure agreement which jeopardizes the safety of our federal partners," the sheriffs wrote. Law enforcement agencies across New York had to attest in writing that they would not share DMV data with federal agents in order to keep getting access to the records themselves.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider this unwise attempt to hamper in the discharge of their duties the dedicated public servants who have been given the duty of protecting all Americans by enforcing the duly enacted laws of this country. You may disagree with those laws, and there are proper ways for you to express that disagreement. Obstructing federal officials in the enforcement of federal law is not one of them,’’ the sheriffs wrote.
A spokesman for Cuomo referred questions about the sheriffs' letter to comments Cuomo made on MSNBC Thursday; Cuomo said federal authorities real motivation for the New York DMV records is to obtain information about "undocumented people who are in our database." He said New York is being "punished" by the Trump administration because the president disagrees with New York's driver's license policy directed at migrants in the country illegally.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not immediately return emails seeking comment. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie declined comment, a spokesman said.
The sheriffs’ letter was signed by Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy, the group’s president, and Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting, the group’s executive committee chairman.