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NY sues over DHS decision to pull access to expedited travel services

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York is suing the federal government over the decision to ban state residents from travel services programs to expedite travel across borders, including Global Entry and NEXUS cards.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday evening it was no longer allowing New Yorkers to apply for expedited travel services to make it through customs faster at major airports and across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Those who already enrolled in the programs will be suspended by the end of the year.

DHS blames a recent New York law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Under that statute, known as the Green Light Law, U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the   Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are prevented from access to New York’s DMV database.

But Cuomo says federal officials don’t need the DMV data to vet applicants and they bring all of the relevant documents to a required in-person meeting with customs officials.

“You don’t have to be a licensed driver to qualify for the federal trusted traveler program,” Cuomo said. “It is pure politics.”

Cuomo says the fight is personal. He says it’s about President Donald Trump treating New York as a “political punching bag” to cater to red states. He says it’s also about Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, wanting to get the DMV data to go after undocumented immigrants and deport them. Cuomo says he will never allow that data to be turned over to ICE.

“Don’t try to extort me,” Cuomo said. “It won’t work. It didn’t even work with Ukraine. Learn the lesson.”

The governor says ICE can still get any criminal records it might need from the FBI.

The state’s Attorney General, Tish James, says she will argue in court that the federal DHS “violated New York's sovereign immunity" by not providing New Yorkers with equal protection and is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner that denies state residents their constitutional rights and privileges.

WBFO's Michael Mroziak reports on Attorney General Letitia James' remarks about New York's pending lawsuit.

"I support the Green Light law. You know the governor supports the Green Light law. The Legislature supports the Green Light law. And the reason why I do is because any law that uplifts the human condition is a law that must be defended," she said. "And this law obviously speaks to obviously the sovereign rights of New York State and our ability to pass laws with respect to the safety on the streets of New York State."

She also disputed federal officials' claims that restricted access to state DMV databases prevents them from completing trusted traveler applications.

"The Global Entry program and, in addition these trusted traveler programs, require that individuals sit down for an interview, that you have a passport, that you give fingerprints, and (one) should be vetted," James said.

Republicans in state government say it’s the fault of Cuomo and the Democratic-led state legislature for passing the Green Light Law to begin with.  

The chair of the state’s Republican Party, Nick Langworthy says the Democrats are “on the side of law-breakers over citizen taxpayers.” Langworthy spoke about the issue earlier in the week.

“Anybody who is upset about this needs to call the governor,” Langworthy said. “And say ‘Why did you do this?”

The lawsuit has not yet been filed, but a spokeswoman for the attorney general, Kelly Donnelly, says it will be soon.

WBFO's Michael Mroziak contributed to this report.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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