DHS cuts New Yorkers off from ‘trusted traveler’ programs

WASHINGTON — New York residents will be cut off from “trusted traveler” programs that enable people to quickly return from outside the country because of a new state law that prevents immigration officials from accessing motor vehicle records, a senior Homeland Security official said Thursday.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers whose applications for the programs are pending or will have to renew their enrollment by the end of the year will have to undergo customs and passport checks as they enter the country as a result of the action, said Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS informed New York officials of the action in a letter a day earlier in response to the state’s “Green Light” law, reflecting a Trump administration push back against states that have sought to protect people who are in the country without legal authorization amid a federal crackdown.

“These are all unfortunate consequences of New York’s ‘Green Light’ law,” Cuccinelli said in a conference call with reporters. “Obviously we would urge New York to undo that law and restore some sanity to its own attempts to help preserve public safety.”

He said DHS is considering additional penalties against New York and evaluating the progress of a similar proposal in Washington state.

Other states have allowed people in the country without legal authorization to obtain a driver’s license, but New York is the only state that has banned the Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing records with DHS, said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the agency.

There are about 150,000 New York residents who are now enrolled in programs such as Global Entry and will be forced out as they come up for their annual renewals by the end of the year. Another 80,000 people have applications pending or have been conditionally approved and will feel the effects of the ban immediately.

It could mean costly delays for the nearly 30,000 commercial truck drivers enrolled in a program that enables them to quickly cross the U.S.-Canada border at four ports of entry in upstate New York.

In a three-page letter, DHS said the Green Light law prevents federal agencies from protecting residents from “menacing threats to national security and public safety.”

The sweeping move came a day after President Donald Trump slammed New York, a sanctuary city, in his State of the Union address. Sanctuary cities are localities that provide added protection to immigrants and refuse to cooperate with federal officials.

The law, which went into effect in December, allowed people without legal permission to be in the United States to apply for driver’s licenses. It included a provision prohibiting state DMV officials from providing any of their data to entities that enforce immigration law unless a judge orders them to do so.

The law blocks U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which patrols the U.S.-Canada border in New York, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from obtaining the vehicles’ owners’ information.

Chad Wolf, acting head of the Homeland Security Department, called New York’s new law “disappointing” during a Fox News interview late Wednesday night. He said the suspension of the programs, used by travelers to quickly move through customs and security at airports, was effective immediately.

“They (New York residents) can’t enroll or reenroll in these trusted traveler programs that customs and border protections offers because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements,” he said.

A senior adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, said the move by DHS was politically motivated.

“This is obviously political retaliation by the federal government and we’re going to review our legal options,” Azzopardi said.

Cuomo, a Democrat, approved the Green Light law last summer, allowing individuals to use foreign-issued documents to prove their age and identity so they can apply for driving privileges. Lawmakers and Cuomo became worried that ICE and CBP would be able to easily obtain information about people seeking a license, and possibly making it easier for them to be deported.

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