Updated to include comments from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, and more. Decision does not apply to TSA PreCheck at U.S. airports
USA Today Network
ALBANY – The Trump administration will prohibit New York residents from enrolling in programs that expedite border crossings, escalating an ongoing battle over the state's new law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
The Department of Homeland Security's decision late Wednesday will keep New Yorkers from signing up for Global Entry, NEXUS and two other programs that allow vetted, low-risk travelers to more easily enter the U.S. or cross its borders, including the various Canadian border points in New York.
The new federal policy is in direct response to New York's Green Light Law, which took effect in December and allows immigrants to seek driver's privileges regardless of whether they entered the country legally.
That law, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers approved in June, also prohibits the state Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing any data with federal authorities that enforce immigration law, including ICE and Customs and Border Protection, without a subpoena or court order.
That information had been used to help identify and vet people seeking to join the border-crossing programs, according to DHS.
"Obviously, we would urge New York to undo that law and to restore some sanity to its own attempts to help preserve public safety," DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said on a conference call Thursday with reporters.
"This law that New York has introduced has made our law-enforcement officers less safe on an individual basis. It has also made New York less safe."
The Trump administration's decision applies to four of the federal government's five Trusted Traveler Programs: NEXUS, Global Entry, SENTRI and FAST. It does not apply to TSA PreCheck, which is used for air travel from U.S. airports.
The decision is expected to immediately affect 80,000 people who were in the process of joining the programs; their applications will now be denied, according to Cuccinelli.
By the end of 2020, about 175,000 will be removed from the programs as their memberships expire, he said.
The decision drew outrage from New York's top Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of being blatantly political.
Cuomo, a Democrat, suggested the federal government is trying to extort the state into changing its law.
"This is unbounded arrogance, disrespect of the rule of law, hyperpolitical government, and this is another form of extortion," Cuomo said on WAMC-FM. "This is what Trump did with Ukraine, and now this is the ethos of his government."
Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo's senior adviser and spokesman, said the governor's office is reveiwing its legal options in light of the federal decision, which Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced Wednesday night on Fox News.
ICE lost access in December
Federal immigration and customs agents all lost access to the New York DMV databases in mid-December, days before the Green Light Law first took effect Dec. 17.
The databases contain information about driver's license holders including their photo, age, height and address, as well as vehicle registration information and "some aspects of an individual's criminal history," Wolf wrote in a letter Wednesday to DMV.
State lawmakers inserted the data-blocking provision into the Green Light bill about a week before it passed, making it illegal for the DMV to hand over data to federal immigration authorities in most circumstances.
The measure was in response to concerns raised by immigrant organizations and Cuomo, a Democrat who questioned whether granting driving privileges to undocumented immigrants would inadvertently make it easier for ICE and Border Patrol to obtain their information and target them for deportation.
In his letter, Wolf said federal authorities have routinely used the data to build cases against child predators, human traffickers, gang members and drug smugglers.
"In the vast majority of these cases, ICE relied on New York DMV records to fulfill its mission," Wolf wrote. "ICE also needs New York DMV information to safeguard Americans' financial and intellectual property rights."
Along with the traveler restrictions, DHS will also slow the processing of exporting used vehicles from New York since it's now more difficult for the federal agency to verify who owns the title to a vehicle without access to the DMV data, according to Wolf's letter.
Cuomo accused the Trump administration of trying to use the Green Light Law as part of a larger push to use immigration laws to divide the electorate.
"They disagree with our Green Light Law," Cuomo said. "It triggers the immigration debate that they’re so fond of using to divide the people of this nation, which they’ve done so successfully."
Trusted Traveler Programs allow quicker crossings
The federal Trusted Traveler Programs allow people to use expedited lanes as they cross a border or pass through airport security.
Applicants for the programs have to pay a fee and submit to a vetting process, which includes an in-person interview. If approved, their membership is good for five years.
The four programs affected by the new federal decision all have to do with international travel, including NEXUS, which applies to entry into the U.S. from Canada by air, land or sea.
NEXUS is often used by people who frequently cross the U.S.-Canada border, including those who live on one side and work on the other.
There are long wait times for acceptance in the program as the federal government deals with a backlog of applications, with some applicants waiting six months or more for an interview appointment.
The FAST program — short for Free and Secure Trade — applies to commercial trucks entering and exiting the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.
Global Entry applies to people entering the U.S. from international destinations.
Travelers who are currently enrolled in the programs would be able to continue to use their membership until it expires. But they wouldn't be allowed to re-enroll until the state and feds end their standoff.
NEXUS applicants turned away
DHS' decision was abruptly implemented Thursday.
Rita Schultz, a Brighton woman, traveled to Niagara Falls for a NEXUS interview Thursday morning, which was months in the making after she started the application process in July.
When she arrived, an agent asked which state she resided in. When she answered, she was turned away and told her $50 application fee would be refunded, Schultz said.
"He said, 'You're no longer eligible and your appointment has been canceled,'" Schultz said.
Democratic officials in New York denounced DHS' decision, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand saying its "true design" is to "punish New York for embracing diversity and inclusion."
The New York Immigration Coalition, an immigrant advocacy organization, noted New York is one of 14 states to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses.
"The fact that Trump is targeting New York proves that this is about politics, pure and simple," Steven Choi, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, called on the state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, to act.
"The Department of Homeland Security provides many services to New York not provided to other states," Reed said in a statement. "Albany must repeal the Green Light Law before the federal government is forced to take further action."
The Department of Homeland Security provides many services to New York not provided to other states. Albany must repeal the Green Light Law before the federal government is forced to take further action."
Cuccinelli said the decision was borne of the Green Light Law's data-blocking provision, which he said puts federal law-enforcement agents at risk.
"It is particularly incredible to see a state that was one of the targets on 9/11 reintroduce ... the main problem that we decided existed that allowed 9/11 to happen, and that was the failure of information sharing across entities of government," he said.
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.