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New York AG Files Lawsuit Over Federal Denial Of Access To Expedited Travel Programs

New York Attorney General Letitia James
Alex Brandon
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks after leaving the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments were heard in the case of President Trump's decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in November.

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 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 says 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 says it will also add to long waits at customs at airports like New York City’s JFK Airport, and affect the border crossings between the U.S. 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 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 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.