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NY sues feds over border program restrictions; Cuomo seeks meeting with Trump

ALBANY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday he talked to President Trump over the weekend to request a face-to-face meeting to discuss the federal government’s decision to suspend New York’s participation in a program intended to prescreen travelers for quicker border crossings.

Trump blasted Cuomo over the weekend for, as he wrote on Twitter, canceling a meeting at the White House while Cuomo on Saturday and Sunday was in Washington for a meeting of an association of the nation’s governors.

Cuomo countered that no such meeting had been scheduled. He said on WAMC public radio on Monday that he did briefly talk with Trump after the Twitter dust-up and requested a personal meeting between the two to discuss restrictions placed last week on the Trusted Traveler Program, which includes the Global Entry security program and one heavily used by the trucking industry for going between the New York and Canadian border.

Cuomo said Trump’s Twitter slap was a reference to a White House dinner Sunday evening for the National Governor’s Association; Cuomo attended the governors’ meetings but skipped the White House dinner.

There was no update Monday afternoon on any Cuomo and Trump meeting.

The governor's comments came a few hours before New York – in a lawsuit filed today by State Attorney General Letitia James – asked the federal courts to overturn the Trump administration's decision to suspend access for New Yorkers in programs such as Global Entry, NEXUS and others.

The federal government has blamed New York's new Green Light Law – which permits immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses while also restricting the flow of information about those drivers to federal immigration officials; the Cuomo administration says 13 other states have such Green Light laws.

Rep. Tom Reed. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

The lawsuit was filed in the federal southern district of New York in lower Manhattan. The state alleges the Trusted Traveler ban – affecting new applicants and those re-enrolling in the border pre-clearance programs – “is a punitive measure intended to coerce New York into changing its policies.’’

“Singling out one state for coercion and retribution as a means to compel conformity with preferred federal policies is unconstitutional,’’ the lawsuit adds.

James, at a news conference today, said 175,000 people enrolled in Trusted Traveler programs will see their eligibility expire this year under the new Trump policy; another 60,000 with Global Entry applications now pending will be blocked from getting enrolled. She said NEXUS is used for 5,500 daily trips across bridges in Western New York into Canada.

"The president's new policy will negatively impact hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, travelers and workers ... It will slow down commerce. It will cost our economy,'' the New York attorney general said.

Senator Luis Sepulveda, a Bronx Democrat and sponsor of the 2019 Green Light legislation, said New York State has nothing to negotiate with the federal government because, he said, there is no connection between the federal traveler program and the Green Light law.

"The only course we have is the court proceeding,'' he said in an interview Monday. The senator said federal immigration officials can still access DMV information to investigate a crime, but "they just can't go on a fishing expedition" to use the license information to track down migrants in the country illegally.

"It would essentially nullify the protections we're affording applicants under the Green Light law,'' Sepulveda said of giving immigration agents unrestrained access to DMV records.

Meanwhile in Albany, local officials testified before legislative fiscal committees on Cuomo’s proposed budget. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown used part of his time before the state legislative panel to raise alarms about the new border restrictions.

“This policy will have lasting and catastrophic fiscal implications for our residents and businesses, and if this decision is not reversed we will certainly see an immediate impact on the city’s economy,’’ Brown said in written testimony submitted to the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.

Brown said about 1,085 Canadian-owned businesses employ about 79,000 New Yorkers, many of whom are Buffalo residents, he said, and who rely “on accessible border crossings for their livelihoods.’’

The mayor said the suspension of the TTP programs will increase the cost of goods going to and from Canada and New York and boost commuting times “to unacceptable levels.’’

Niagara County officials on Monday urged people to get passports instead of relying on the New York State driver’s license to meet REAL ID-mandated documents that come into effect on October 1.

In a statement Monday morning, Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski warned of potential problems the federal government could have with the New York licenses under the new travel program, which will require REAL ID-compliant travel documents for all domestic flights for travelers 18 years and older.

“As we have now seen, the federal government does not trust documentation coming out of New York State because of Governor Cuomo’s failed Green Light legislation that gave illegal immigrants driver’s licenses,’’ said the Republican county clerk, who has been a sharp critic of the new driver’s license law. He said he worries federal officials could crack down on New York licenses under the upcoming REAL ID program in the same way it did last week with the Trusted Traveler Program.

As Democrats line up to criticize Washington and Republicans blame Albany, one Western New York Democratic member of the Assembly said it's time to rescind or amend the Green Light driver's license law. Assemblywoman Monica Wallace of Lancaster, who broke with Democrats last year in voting against the driver's license bill, said the problems now arising over the Trusted Traveler Program pose a risk to the economy in Western New York and that the Green Light law should either be repealed or amended to ensure that federal immigration and border security agents can get access to state motor vehicle records.

"Any law that prohibits law enforcement agencies from cooperating with one another is flawed from the outset,'' Wallace said in a statement Monday.

In a later interview, Wallace said there are still answers needed regarding the specific security issues raised by the limiting of federal access to state DMV records, as well as why the TTP programs are being blocked for security reasons or people renewing their eligibility versus those, like herself, who won't see their enrollment expire for several years.

To to get those answers, the lawmaker said, it will take "dialing down the rhetoric" on both sides and getting officials together to try to reach a resolution. "There is $900 million of commerce between Western New York and Canada. This is something incumbent upon us ... to address,'' she said.

Since the Green Light law took effect in mid-December, more than 96,000 Class D driver's licenses have been issued in New York State. However, state DMV officials cannot say how many of those licenses were obtained through the Green Light program because motor vehicle offices cannot ask license applicants about their citizenship or lawful status, officials said last week.

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