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Tom Reed needs to play a primary role in resolving border crisis

Rep. Tom Reed may not have preferred this moment to step up, but it has come to him. The Republican leader of the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus needs to play a leading role in resolving a destructive standoff between New York State and the Trump administration.

The matter revolves around the state’s controversial new Green Light Law, but the wisdom of allowing residents here illegally to obtain driver’s licenses isn’t the issue. New York did that in the past and so do 12 other states and the District of Columbia. Those states represent a range of political thinking, from left-leaning New York and California to deep-red Utah. Agree or disagree, the debate goes beyond politics.

But in New York’s case – and New York’s, alone – the federal government has abruptly and unilaterally stopped processing all trusted traveler applications, including renewals for those who have already qualified. The conflict revolves around New York’s denial of routine access to driver’s license information by the Department of Homeland Security. Those programs include Global Entry and NEXUS, an especially popular program in Western New York, given the frequency with which area residents cross the border.

It’s not simply that those programs are favored here, they are infused in the region’s daily routines. Without efficiency at the border, among both passenger cars and commercial trucks, the local economy will erode. In an area still recovering from decades of decline, that could be a killer. It’s up to our representatives to do their job and fix this problem before it has a chance to metastasize.

New York blocked access to driver’s license information, officials said, because it doesn’t want the federal government using state resources to arrest and deport immigrants who here illegally. But officials representing border operations say such access is essential to border security and officer safety and as a way to verify information submitted on trusted traveler applications.

While reaction to this controversy is largely breaking down along political lines, at least one local congressman has called on the state and federal governments to find a middle ground. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, called for a compromise that would protect the interests of Western New Yorkers.

“We have an immediate problem, he said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to encourage the state of New York and Homeland Security to engage in discussions toward an amicable solution to this.”

That’s not Reed’s response. So far, he is simply standing back and throwing stones – not the kind of approach he justifiably boasts about in his role as a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. That group, he says on his congressional website, focuses on solving issues. “Simply, we put people and progress before party,” the Corning Republican writes there.

If that kind of approach were ever needed, it is on this issue – one that holds a knife to the neck of this region, including his 23rd Congressional District, which stretches to the Lake Erie shoreline. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.

Part of the problem Reed may face is that the Green Light Law, itself, has become a lightning rod – one that Republicans think may play in their favor in the 2022 gubernatorial election. Reed has said he is evaluating a campaign for governor.

But that can’t be a reason for him to abandon his district and to disregard his bona fides as a “problem solver.” As essential as it is for Higgins to try to end this standoff, Reed is the one who could have Trump’s ear.

He needs to lead an effort to find a middle ground that acknowledges whatever federal needs may be at play, including any legitimate issues involving border security and agent safety, but which also recognizes New York’s constitutional right to approve laws that its elected officials deem appropriate. One place to start is an acknowledgment that renewals of existing trusted traveler cards should not be in play.

If Reed wants to change those laws, he should make that case to New York’s voters as a state candidate two years from now, not by sacrificing the interests of his constituents to political expediency and federal politics.

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