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Governor to sue Justice Dept. for banning NYers from Trusted Traveler Program

Reed Saxon / AP
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will take legal action against the federal government, after the U.S. Justice Department admitted in court papers that it was untruthful in its rationale for banning New Yorkers access to the Trusted Traveler Program for airline customers.

The dispute between New York and the Trump Administration began in 2019, when the state allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for standard drivers licenses. It also barred the federal government from obtaining information about the immigrants through those  licenses.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security claimed that because New York’s DMV was blocking their access to some of the agencies information, they could no longer safely issue fast-tracked air travel programs, including TSA pre-check and the Trusted Traveler-Global Entry programs. The announcement of the ban came one day after President Trump’s State of the Union speech, which criticized New York’s immigration policies.

Cuomo, at the time, argued that several other states already offered drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants and New York was being singled out for political reasons.

In papers filed Thursday in a lawsuit brought by the state, the acting U.S. Attorney for Southern New York admitted that its argument was inaccurate, and that New York’s policies were not different than over a dozen other states who allow the immigrants access to drivers licenses. New Yorkers were immediately reinstated into the Trusted Traveler Program.

“They got caught,” Cuomo said. “It was all politics all the time. It was all exploitation all the time. And they hurt this state because of it.”

Cuomo said the actions were “illegal” and the federal officials violated their oaths of office. He said the state intends to file criminal charges and possibly seek civil damages in court.

The governor also said when the program, which fast-tracked some flyers through customs, was suspended in February, it backed up lines in airports. He said the policy might have contributed to the COVID-19 crisis that hit New York in March and April and killed thousands, because in February, people were flying to New York City’s airports from Europe and were infected with the virus.

“It is at the exact same time that we know COVID is coming in on European flights," Cuomo said, "and now you packed people into waiting rooms and on lines who didn’t need to be on the line because you were playing politics. How do you quantify that?”

Cuomo admitted he does not have any hard data to backup that claim.

He is also asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler to launch an investigation. New York senior U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is also calling for a probe by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.

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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