New York officials say the state will sue to stop the Trump administration from blocking New Yorkers' access to "Trusted Traveler" programs like Global Entry. The Department of Homeland Security rolled out plans Thursday to bar New York residents from enrolling or re-enrolling in the program, which offers expedited access through airport security lines and the United States border. The administration said the decision came in response to New York's new "Green Light law," which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.
"Here we have one of the targets of 9/11 walking backwards quite intentionally to bar information from DHS," Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli told reporters on Thursday, referring to the Green Light law. "As a result of this, the DHS has decided that New York residents will no longer be allowed to participate in any of our Trusted Traveler programs."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office condemned the move as "political retaliation."
In a statement Friday announcing the lawsuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James said, "This is political retribution, plain and simple, and while the president may want to punish New York for standing up to his xenophobic policies, we will not back down." She added, "We plan to take legal action and sue the Trump Administration for its unfair targeting of New York State residents. "
The suspension affects programs like Global Entry, which allows eligible travelers to pay a fee and submit identification documents in advance in exchange for reduced wait times when returning to the U.S. from traveling abroad. In addition to Global Entry, the suspension also affects the Trusted Traveler programs NEXUS, Sentri, and FAST. Under the new policy, New Yorkers will not be allowed to join the programs and those already accepted will be kicked out by the end of the year.
In addition to air travelers, truck drivers will also be affected since many use the FAST program for easy access across the U.S.-Canada border.
He clarified that TSA PreCheck, another of the DHS' Trusted Traveler programs which allows expedited security checks for domestic travel, is "not currently on the list" of suspended programs, but added that "doesn't mean it can't be in the future."
DHS expects the policy change to affect "150,000 to 200,000 New York residents."
According to Cuccinelli, the "most immediate impact," will be felt by the 50,000 to 80,000 New Yorkers who have begun applications for Trusted Traveler access but not yet completed the process. He also said, "75,000 New Yorkers will not be able to renew their Trusted Traveler status this year."
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf first informed state officials of the suspension through a letter sent to New York's Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday, and announced the decision on Fox News.
Wolf wrote that New York's Driver's License Access and Privacy Act (Green Light law) "precludes U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from accessing and validating pertinent information contained in New York DMV records that is operationally critical in DHS' s efforts to keep our Nation secure."
His letter continued, "this Act and the corresponding lack of security cooperation from the New York DMV requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS' s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised."
It is unclear how the drivers license law would undermine Global Entry security, however, since Global Entry applicants also must submit their passports and undergo rigorous background checks and in-person interviews before approval.
Governor Cuomo signed Green Light into law last year. After it went into effect in December, long lines quickly spilled out of DMV offices across the state as undocumented residents rushed to apply for licenses for the first time ever.
Cuccinelli said the law has made New York residents and law enforcement officers less safe.
"These are all unfortunate consequences due to the Green Light law," he said Thursday. "... We urge New York to reverse that law and reintroduce some sanity."
On Fox News Wednesday night, Wolf argued it's important for immigration agents to have access to DMV records. "ICE uses that as they build cases and they're investigating criminal networks. They're using that personal data that they get from that database to look up an individuals' date of birth, their photo, and they're using that as they build that case. They can no longer do that because of what New York did."
Governor Cuomo's office said it would immediately look into a legal challenge.
"This is obviously political retaliation by the federal government," said Cuomo's senior advisor Rich Azzopardi.
In a statement Friday, Cuomo blamed President Trump "and his Washington enablers" for attempting to punish blue states "for refusing to fall in line with their dangerous and divisive agenda."
"The Department of Homeland Security's decision to ban New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler Program is yet another example of this administration's disrespect of the rule of law, hyper-partisan politics and use of extortion. There is no rational basis for this politically motivated ban, and we are taking legal action to stop the federal government from inconveniencing New Yorkers to score political points," Cuomo said.
Twelve other states also have laws which authorize drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, CBS New York reports. It is unclear why New York is being singled out by DHS.
Travelers at New York's JFK Airport told CBS New York they weren't happy to hear about the policy change.
"I think for all New Yorkers it's inconvenient … who travels a lot from plane. They have to go through all this stuff again and again. That's gonna be really bad for them," resident Raj Singh said.
"Now it means whenever I want to travel, coming back here there are gonna be long lines after travel. My flight is like 17 hours," another traveler said. "The problem is the Trump administration has been anti-immigrant."
In his letter, Wolf said that ICE uses New York DMV data "on a daily basis" to track transnational gangs, narcotics smuggling, human smuggling and trafficking" in addition to other criminal activity.
"In New York alone, last year ICE arrested 149 child predators, identified or rescued 105 victims of exploitation and human trafficking, arrested 230 gang members, and seized 6,487 pounds of illegal narcotics, including fentanyl and opioids," he wrote. "In the vast majority of these cases, ICE relied on New York DMV records to fulfill its mission."
DHS' announcement came a day after President Trump condemned sanctuary cities — specifically mentioning New York — during his annual State of the Union address.
"Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal illegal aliens," Mr. Trump said. "In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed."
"A criminal alien, freed by the sanctuary city of New York, was charged with the brutal rape and murder of a 92-year-old woman," he said. "The killer had been previously arrested for assault. But under New York's sanctuary policies, he was set free. If the city had honored ICE's detainer request, his victim would still be alive today."