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While police in New York have been enforcing social distancing and stay-at-home orders in the last few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, the state effectively worked to “criminalize” part of their jobs.
A U.S. Attorney in New York accused Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of “legislating obstruction” with a law that bans police from sharing Department of Motor Vehicles information with federal immigration agencies. New York’s Green Light Law was passed last year allowing a driver’s license to anyone without legal immigration status, and now the approved 2020 budget has added an eyebrow-raising amendment.
While the Green Light Law prohibited the sharing of DMV information with the Department of Homeland Security or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Cuomo’s 2020 budget passed last month as all eyes were on the coronavirus crisis, now makes that sharing of information by any law enforcement officer a class E Felony, according to WKBW.
“Border Patrol for example, working the highway in the middle of the night and pulls over a vehicle, they can’t run the plates to determine who owns that vehicle,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York J.P. Kennedy told WKBW.
“I think it’s legislating obstruction and it’s very concerning to me,” Kennedy added.
The law was originally criticized for preventing ICE and federal immigration authorities from doing their jobs, as it required that the state’s DMV commissioner “shall not disclose or make accessible in any manner records or information” from the DMV to “any agency that primarily enforces immigration law.”
Republican state legislators earlier this year demanded that the law, which was approved last June and took effect in December 2019, be repealed. Washington County, New York Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy slammed the law on Fox News back in February.
“You know, those federal agencies that are banned from accessing these records are not only tasked with enforcing immigration laws, they also handle very serious crimes like narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, terrorism — cases like that,” the New York Sheriff’s Association president noted. “And, when you’re talking about cases of terrorism or cases of child sexual exploitation, you know, federal authorities certainly should have that information at hand.”
The Department of Homeland Security fired back at the state’s enactment of the law earlier this year as it announced that New Yorkers would be prohibited from enrolling in Trusted Traveler Programs which vet travelers to get them through airport lines and borders more quickly.
But the 2020 budget passed in April not only did not reverse existing orders, it amended the original law to hold law enforcement officers criminally accountable for sharing information.
“We’ve seen how important communication and coordination in coming up with a response to the pandemic and sort of causing people to work in isolation it’s a recipe for disaster,” Kennedy said, noting how the amended language was added while the state was under siege as the U.S. epicenter for COVID-19.
“I’m very concerned about this and I think it’s very unfortunate and makes me really question the motives of the individuals that enacted this law, if their professed interest in public safety and public health is really as important as they say they are.,” he told WKBW.
Additionally, the implications of the law will go far beyond New York’s borders as the impact will be felt in other states encountering illegal immigrants with New York plates.
“If any law enforcement officer in Texas ran across a New York State registered vehicle they could not run that plate if it was any officer who was involved in the enforcement of immigration law,” Kennedy explained.
Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns found the policy “shocking.”
“This is shocking this is unheard of and especially during a pandemic that someone, the Governor, who is under so much pressure thought about that to put that in there,” Kearns said.
“We just had I think it was 29 people law enforcement people in the State of New York that just died from COVID, and they’re criminals now?” he asked. “They basically criminalize police work in this budget.”
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw told the outlet that he thinks ” it’s wrong to put the lives and rights of illegal immigrants over law enforcement.”
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