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AG files lawsuit over federal denial of access to expedited travel programs

WBFO file photo

New York’s Attorney General has now filed papers in a lawsuit against the federal government for preventing  New Yorkers from enrolling or re-enrolling in the federal government's Trusted Traveler Programs, aimed at making border crossings faster and easier.

The administration of President Donald Trump has said it needs to cut New Yorkers off from the programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST, because the state recently enacted a law to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. The law, effective last December, also prevents U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from access to New York’s DMV data base. The federal Department of Homeland Security says because of that, it can no longer adequately vet those applying for the programs.  

Attorney General Tish James says denying New Yorkers’ access to the federal programs violates the state’s sovereign rights, and will immediately effect tens of thousands of New Yorkers now applying for the programs and hundreds of thousands of state residents enrolled in the programs whose authorization expires within the next  year. She says it will also add to long waits at customs at airports like New York City’s JKF airport, and effect the  border crossings between the US and Canada.

“It will slow down commerce, it will cost our economy,” James said. “ All while posing a significant threat to public safety.”

James says the DMV’s data is limited to offenses like driving without a license or DWI convictions, and does not contain criminal records. And she says Homeland Security and border officials can get all of that information through other agencies, like the FBI and the state’s division of Criminal Justice Services. She says the attempt to end access to the programs is nothing more than political pay back from President Donald Trump.

“New Yorkers will not be held hostage by an administration intent on restraining the sovereign rights of New York State,” James said.

Western New York’s Democratic leaders say the economy of the state’s second largest city, Buffalo will take a hit if this policy is not reversed. Mayor Byron Brown says state and local officials have worked for several years with the federal government to expedite border crossings, now all of that work will be undone.  

“This will just slow things up,” Brown said. “And ultimately it won’t even make the homeland safer. It is safer to allow people to participate in the Trusted Traveler Program, so you actually know who you are dealing with.”

Senator Tim Kennedy, who represents portions of Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Lackawanna says he and the other Western New York officials do not endorse rolling back the state’s law to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses, known as the Green Light Law. He says the license granted to the undocumented immigrants are not allowed to be used for any federal purposes, including border crossings, and that restriction is printed right on the licenses.

“This is a manufactured crisis by the federal government,” Kennedy said.   

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been trying to meet with President Trump to try to convince him to roll back the policy. But so far, his attempts have been unsuccessful.

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.