WASHINGTON – About 175,000 New York residents will be cut off from federal trusted traveler programs by the end of 2020 thanks to a new federal policy enacted in reaction to a new state law allowing undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses, a senior Trump administration official said Thursday.
Those New Yorkers are due to renew their memberships in programs such as NEXUS and Global Entry, which are intended to speed the processing of Americans returning to the United States. But thanks to a new Department of Homeland Security policy announced Wednesday, those people will not be allowed to renew those memberships.
In addition, more than 80,000 New Yorkers who have applied for new memberships in such programs will not get them.
The Trump administration official said the Department of Homeland Security made those moves because New York's Green Light Law not only grants driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, but also bars the federal government from accessing state driver's license information.
Federal officials "can't see these critical records," said the official, who insisted as being identified as a "Senior Official Performing the Duties of Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli." "And so, it's only reasonable from a public safety standpoint to not qualify new applicants or renewals for any of these programs as trusted travelers."
Somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 New Yorkers will be unable to renew their trusted traveler applications in each of the next five years, given that membership in such programs lasts five years.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the dramatic policy change in an appearance on Fox News late Wednesday.
The Trump administration's move does not immediately affect New York residents who already use NEXUS – hugely popular for Western New Yorkers who travel to Canada regularly – and Global Entry, which makes it far quicker for international travelers to re-enter the U.S. after trips abroad.
But it does mean that they will not be able to renew their membership in those trusted traveler programs once their current memberships expire.
It also means that New Yorkers who plan on enrolling in those programs for the first time will not be able to do so.
The Trump administration move could lead to legal action from New York State.
"This is obviously political retaliation by the federal government and we’re going to review our legal options," said Richard Azzopardi, senior adviser to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The new DHS policy blocks renewals and new enrollments from New York in the SENTRI program for people who wish to quickly enter either Canada and Mexico, as well as FAST, a trusted-traveler program for truck drivers. The letter outlining the new federal policy makes no mention of TSA PreCheck – a popular program that offers members a short-cut in airport security lines for domestic travel.
Wolf said his agency was suspending trusted traveler enrollment for New Yorkers not just because the Green Light Law allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses, but also because that state measure bars federal law enforcement agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement from accessing Department of Motor Vehicles data.
"That's important for a number of different reasons," Wolf said on Fox News. "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 individual's 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."
Customs and Border Protection also uses that state drivers' license data for national security purposes, but can no longer do so in New York because of the State Legislature's action, Wolf said.
The Legislature passed the Green Light Law in June with Cuomo's backing.
Advocates of the law billed it as a public safety measure, in that it would allow undocumented immigrants to be registered with the state.
But Wolf, in a letter to New York's DMV, said the Green Light Law could have a dire impact on national security.
"The act compromises CBP's ability to confirm whether an individual applying for (trusted traveler program) membership meets program eligibility requirements," Wolf wrote.
He noted that ICE has used state motor vehicle data to combat crimes ranging from narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, fraud and identity theft.
Last year in New York, ICE arrested 149 child predators, identified or rescued 105 human trafficking victims, arrested 230 gang members and seized 6,487 pounds of illegal narcotics.
"In the vast majority of these cases, ICE relied on New York DMV records to fulfill its mission," Wolf wrote.
That being the case, Wolf wrote that the Trump administration had no choice but to block New Yorkers from accessing federal trusted traveler programs, once the state passed the Green Light Law.
"Although DHS would prefer to continue our long-standing cooperative relationship with New York on a variety of these critical homeland security initiatives, 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," Wolf wrote.
The Trump administration's move came two weeks after Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from Corning, warned that the Green Light Law might prompt the federal government to action against New York State.
“This is yet another result of one-party extremist in Albany control hurting New Yorkers," Reed said. "Albany must repeal the Green Light Law before the federal government is forced to take further action.”
But Allison Biasotti, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E Schumer – a New York Democrat – offered a different take on the federal action.
“The suspension of the trusted traveler programs would hurt New Yorkers from every region and every political philosophy, particularly border communities in Western New York and the North Country," she said. "It is transparently political, retaliatory, unconstitutional and singles out New York unfairly.”
Story topics: Trusted Traveler