Share this article

print logo

Trump, Cuomo fail to resolve trusted traveler standoff

President Trump and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met Thursday – but failed to resolve their standoff over New York's law blocking the Department of Homeland Security from seeing state Department of Motor Vehicles records.

That means New Yorkers remain barred from joining or renewing their memberships in trusted traveler programs such as NEXUS, which many Western New Yorkers rely on to quickly cross the Canadian border, and Global Entry, which eases the customs process at international airports.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who attended the meeting, termed it "productive" and said discussions would continue.

Meanwhile, Cuomo's communications director said the governor restated his proposed solution for the disagreement: that the state allow DHS to see driver's records only for people applying for trusted traveler programs.

The meeting came amid escalating tensions over the state's Green Light Law.

Passed last year, that measure allows undocumented immigrants to apply for New York driver's licenses – but, in order to prevent those immigrants from being deported, the law also prevents federal border security agencies from seeing any DMV data from the state.

Only an hour before the meeting, Trump posted a tweet that appeared to imply that his administration's action on the trusted traveler programs was connected to the lawsuits it has filed against him on other issues.

And earlier in the day, the New York State Sheriffs' Association issued a strongly worded statement warning of the security dangers of barring federal officials from seeing state DMV records.

With that backdrop, Cuomo arrived at the White House around 3 p.m. and left without speaking to reporters. And later in the afternoon, both sides issued statements that together told the story of a continued stalemate.

The Trump administration has insisted that Customs and Border Protection needs access to state DMV records in order to conduct all sorts of investigations – and not just to vet applicants to trusted traveler programs.

And in his statement, the homeland security secretary did not budge from that point of view.

"The relationship between New York and the federal government is very important but has been made difficult by the unilateral actions of New York regarding the sharing of critical security information with DHS," Wolf said.

Wolf's statement also noted that New York is the only state that bars the customs agency from information for law enforcement, customs, trade and travel purposes.

"Despite that, we will continue discussions with the state of New York to find a mutually agreeable solution," Wolf said.

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

About an hour after Wolf issued his statement, Dani Lever, Cuomo's communications director, provided a few additional details about the meeting.

"Governor Cuomo restated the initial solution that he proposed to the DHS acting secretary last Thursday on our willingness to allow federal officials access to DMV records only for individuals applying to the trusted traveler program," Lever said.

Lever's statement also indicated the two sides will keep talking.

"The president said that this is an issue he wants to work on and that he would follow up with the Governor next week," Lever said.

Nevertheless, the Cuomo administration didn't move from its contention that the trusted traveler dust-up had its roots in politics, rather than public safety.

"As the governor previously said, we believe DHS's action was politically motivated and unwarranted as the FBI already has information regarding criminal records and TTP applicants already go through an extensive federal background check," Lever said.

Trump's tweet before the meeting even pointed to a possible political motive.

"I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House," Trump said. "He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes."

That tweet came in light of the fact that State Attorney General Letitia James has subpoenaed Trump's business records and tax returns, and recently settled a lawsuit over Trump's defunct charity.

Trump's tweet about his meeting with Cuomo prompted a sharp rebuke from Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat who was one of the impeachment "managers" in Trump's recent Senate trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction.

"As we predicted, the president is now expanding his abuse of power to blackmailing U.S. states (threatening millions of people he supposedly works for)," Demings tweeted. "In this case, he's holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud."

Trump, as is his style, ended his tweet with an insult, this one aimed at Cuomo's brother: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, whom Trump frequently likens to the most ineffectual Corleone brother in "The Godfather" mafia movies.

"Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!" Trump said.

On a much more serious note, the state Sheriffs' Association sent a letter to Cuomo and state legislative leaders to remove part of the Green Light Law that bars information-sharing with the federal government.

The law enforcement group did not strongly oppose the Green Light Law last year, it said Thursday, “because we recognized that was more of a public policy issue within your purview, than a law enforcement issue within ours."

However, "the provision of that law which effectively denies federal immigration officials access to state Department of Motor Vehicle records is a law enforcement issue, and one about which we feel compelled to express our opposition and deep concern," the group wrote to the state government leaders.

The group said sheriffs have a long tradition of cooperating with federal law enforcement efforts, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Now, though, the new Green Light Law bars sheriffs from sharing DMV data with federal authorities, which poses risks to federal agents, the sheriffs said.

“We find it offensive that, in order to avail our own deputies of DMV data that they need for their own safe operations, we were coerced into signing a nondisclosure agreement which jeopardizes the safety of our federal partners," the sheriffs wrote.

Law enforcement agencies across New York had to attest in writing that they would not share DMV data with federal agents in order to keep getting access to the records.

“We strongly urge you to reconsider this unwise attempt to hamper in the discharge of their duties the dedicated public servants who have been given the duty of protecting all Americans by enforcing the duly enacted laws of this country," the sheriffs' letter added. "You may disagree with those laws, and there are proper ways for you to express that disagreement. Obstructing federal officials in the enforcement of federal law is not one of them."

There are no comments - be the first to comment