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 Higgins Opening Statement at Trusted Traveler Program Hearing

September 30, 2020

 Higgins Opening Statement at Trusted Traveler Program Hearing

WASHINGTON – Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) – Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Subcommittee ranking member – today delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Examining DHS’ Management of Trusted Traveler Programs”.

Thank you Chairwoman Rice, and thank you Deputy Commissioner Perez for being here today.

Last year, New York State passed legislation, referred to as the Green Light Law, that has disturbingly made communities throughout the entire country less safe.

The law barred New York State driver’s license and vehicle registration information, driving-related criminal history information, driver’s license and corrections images, among other information on residents from being shared with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The sponsor of this law said before the State Assembly that it would only impact investigations of immigration-related violations…and that criminal investigations would not be impacted.

However, criminal investigations have in fact been impacted by this state law and the totality of negative consequences are much farther reaching.

All four U.S. attorneys for the state of New York put out a press release in February sounding the alarm that the Green Light Law is impacting active criminal investigations across the board.

CBP and ICE are on the front lines of defending the homeland from terrorism, transnational crime, dangerous gang members, narcotics including fentanyl, counterfeit products including pharmaceuticals, human trafficking, child exploitation, among other important missions.

The Green Light Law limits the Department’s situational awareness at border crossings, interior checkpoints where high volumes of drug and human smuggling interdictions occur, peace officer patrol stops, and homeland security investigations including criminal activity on the Darknet. 

There are more than 19 million residents of New York State. New York State licensed vehicles and travelers transit borders, sea ports, and airports across the country. The impact of the law is not New York specific, it effects communities throughout the United States.

The Green Light law also requires an individual to be notified if CBP or ICE requests information about them outside the scope of the exception.

If an ICE officer is investigating a human trafficking case involving an illegal immigrant who resides in New York State and attempts to access related DMV data, state law requires that individual to be tipped off. That is shameful.

The Green Light Law wrongfully assumes that state DMV data is mainly accessed for civil immigration violation purposes. The reality is more than 86% of individuals arrested by ICE in Fiscal Year 2019 had criminal convictions or pending charges.

The Green Light Law furthers the far left’s agenda to tie the hands of federal law enforcement, ignore federal immigration laws, attack and call for the dismantlement of ICE and CBP, and fracture information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement. This law values the ability of an illegal immigrant to get a driver’s license over the safety and security of the homeland.

The New York State legislature knew that it went too far. That’s why they amended the original language in April of this year to allow for some information flow to CBP.

But what could have been a good-faith effort to come together and right the original wrong turned into an escalated attack on law enforcement by making it a FELONY to share DMV information with CBP or ICE outside narrow exceptions.

This move flies in the face of the 9/11 Commission Report on the importance of information sharing.  It intentionally poisons the well with federal, state, and local partners on joint task forces to counter terrorism, gang violence, and drug trafficking seen as a best practice to keep violent criminals off the streets.

Instead of speaking out about the dangerous precedent the Green Light Law has set, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem more concerned with taking shots at the Administration and career DHS officials right before the election.

It is undeniable that New York State took unprecedented action in blocking CBP and ICE access to DMV information currently available to all other federal, state, and local law enforcement.

Today I want to hear on the record about how this New York State law is still negatively impacting CBP’s homeland security missions.

I want case examples on the record about the hoops CBP must still jump through to secure the homeland, and what more needs to be done to reverse this short-sighted law.

I want to know if someone residing in the country illegally who receives a New York State issued driver’s license can obtain NEXUS status, which in some instances acts in lieu of a passport.

I want an update on data sharing agreements being made to ensure CBP can fully vet trusted traveler applicants.

I yield back.