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Poloncarz talks trusted traveler, coronavirus at White House

WASHINGTON – Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz went to the White House Monday to push Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed compromise to allow New Yorkers to once again enroll in federal trusted traveler programs.

But the coronavirus pushed its way onto the agenda – and both Poloncarz and the Trump administration officials he met with agreed that the two issues could actually combine to make big trouble at New York's border crossings with Canada.

"They may be two separate things in theory, but in fact they're colliding and having a negative impact," Poloncarz said.

The county executive said he fears that the increasing number of coronavirus cases in Ontario could lead to more rigorous border inspections at a time when New Yorkers are losing access to the NEXUS trusted traveler program that speeds their trips across the border.

One immediate way of reducing the chance of that happening would be for the Trump administration to accept Cuomo's proposed compromise on the issue, but Poloncarz didn't win any commitment to that effect.

"They could not give me any further indication whether or not that the proposal provided by Gov. Cuomo would be accepted," Poloncarz said. "They just basically said, 'Yes, we are aware that it was provided.' "

The Trump administration last month blocked New Yorkers from applying for or renewing their memberships in NEXUS or global entry, which speeds the customs process at international airports.

Trump officials did that in reaction to New York's new Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses but also bars federal homeland security officials from access to New York Department of Motor Vehicles data.

Federal officials insist they need that data to conduct national security investigations – but supporters of the Green Light Law fear that the Trump administration would use that DMV data to hunt for and deport undocumented immigrants.

Under Cuomo's compromise, the state would allow federal officials to get access to all DMV data except Social Security numbers.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf last week said Cuomo's proposal "looks promising," but the issue remains unresolved.

Poloncarz said the growing coronavirus threat makes resolving the trusted traveler issue more urgent, and the Trump administration officials at the meeting agreed.

"They understand that there is a cascading effect of having a slowdown at the bridge because of the issues with the trusted traveler program and then having another slowdown with the bridge because of worries associated with the coronavirus," he said.

The coronavirus outbreak was a key topic of the 75-minute session.

"They're concerned that there's going to be, of course, further community spread," Poloncarz said.

If the virus were to spread rapidly in Toronto, that would have an economic impact in Western New York at a time when the trusted traveler controversy threatens to reduce U.S.-Canadian trade, he added.

Poloncarz, who is in the nation's capital for a National Association of Counties conference, attended the meeting with about 15 other county officials from New York State. Trump administration intergovernmental affairs staffers attended the meeting, but Jeffrey Rubini, director of response policy at the National Security Council, was the point person for the session.

Trump will speak at the conference of county officials on Tuesday.

"I think everyone's looking forward to the conference and his talk, but we're hoping that it stays on the governmental matters and it doesn't stray from that because it will be a uncomfortable situation if it goes into more of a campaign-like setting," Poloncarz said.

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