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EDITORIAL: Green Light law hinders law enforcement

EDITORIAL: Green Light law hinders law enforcement

Law cuts off police from access to DMV records unless they agree not to cooperate with feds on immigration

Whether one agrees or disagrees with New York state issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants rests largely on one’s philosophy.

Some argue undocumented immigrants shouldn’t have the same rights as American citizens, while others say we’re a nation of immigrants and should do all we can to incorporate immigrants into our society, including letting them drive.

Regardless of how one feels about immigrants’ rights, there were practical reasons to oppose the new Green Light law.

The most legitimate one was its potential impact on law enforcement.

Now that concern has become reality, as nearly 80 police agencies across New York have been denied access to state computerized motor vehicle data because they had yet to certify that they would refrain from sharing that data with federal immigration officers.

A report from the CNHI News Service stated that police agencies were given a deadline of Saturday to sign a document pledging not to share the information, or risk being blocked from accessing state Department of Motor Vehicle records.

The agreement includes not sharing information with U.S. immigration and customs enforcement or U.S. customs and border protection without some prior agreement, CNHI reported.

This means that New York state was deliberately blocking its own police agencies from accessing the state’s own motor vehicle information, and essentially preventing police from sharing vital information that could help them identify drug traffickers, human traffickers, terrorists, fugitives from other countries and states, other criminals and people who just shouldn’t be driving on state roads.

Cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels is often essential to investigating crimes and making arrests. 

And it works both ways. New York police agencies benefit from their relationship with federal agencies, and federal agencies benefit from the information they get from the state — and not just to identify immigrants in the country illegally. Also, let’s remember that effective immigration enforcement is in the interests of state residents.

Forcing law enforcement agencies to sign a non-cooperation agreement involving federal agencies in exchange for access to the state’s own DMV records is counterproductive to the state’s duty to protect the public.

Eventually, it’s likely all police agencies in the state will give in and sign the agreement. They’ve really got no choice.

But lawmakers shouldn’t have put them in this position in the first place. There are ways to protect undocumented immigrants without imposing an overly broad standard on law enforcement, without hindering cooperation, and without threatening to cut off access to  records.

Whether one agrees philosophically with the Green Light law or not, the public loses out when law enforcement is unnecessarily limited from doing its job.

This outcome of the law is disheartening, but it’s not surprising.

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