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Politics and Government

NY Attorney general files lawsuit over federal denial of access to expedited travel programs

Karen DeWitt
WRVO News (file photo)

New York’s attorney general has 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 Trump administration 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 driver’s 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 database. 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 said denying New Yorkers’ access to the federal programs violates the state’s sovereign rights and will immediately affect 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 said it also will add to long waits at customs at airports like New York City’s JFK airport and affect the border crossings between the United States and Canada. 

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

James said the DMV’s data is limited to offenses like driving without a license or DWI convictions, and does not contain criminal records. And she said 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 said the attempt to end access to the programs is nothing more than political payback 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 Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city, will take a hit if this policy is not reversed. Mayor Byron Brown said state and local officials have worked for several years with the federal government to expedite border crossings, and 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.”  

State Sen. Tim Kennedy, who represents portions of Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Lackawanna, said 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.

Kennedy said 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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been trying to meet with Trump to try to convince him to roll back the policy. So far, his attempts have been unsuccessful.