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Cuomo: New York will sue over access to speedy travel program

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a news

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at a news conference in January in Manhattan.   Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday said the state will sue the Trump administration for “political extortion” for freezing New Yorkers out of programs that allow travelers to get through airport security faster.

A federal official Friday reacted by accusing Cuomo of creating a critical public safety issue.

The federal Department of Homeland Security had said Thursday it won’t admit any new members from New York to most of its Trusted Travel Programs, including “Global Entry,” that prescreen travelers to allow them a shorter time in security checkpoints for air, land and sea travel. Homeland Security estimates 175,000 New Yorkers are enrolled in these programs and another 80,000 are applying for them.

Federal officials blame parts of the state’s new Green Light Law. The law allows immigrants without proper documentation to obtain a driver’s license that can’t be used for “federal purposes.” The law, which was effective Dec. 14, also denies Department of Motor Vehicles records to Homeland Security without a court order.

Cuomo said he fears DHS would provide those records to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which would use the records to find and deport immigrants who are in the country illegally.

“I don’t want ICE to have those records,” Cuomo said. “The way ICE does deportation has wreaked havoc all over this state. … Don’t try to extort me and don’t try to extort New York.”

Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said Cuomo is distorting the dispute.

“I made clear to the governor yesterday that suspending Trusted Traveler Programs for New York had nothing to do with driver’s licenses and everything to do with the breakdown in information sharing,” Wolf said Friday.

I made clear to the governor that if the State of New York restores access to mission-critical law enforcement information, then New Yorkers will once again be able to enroll,” Wolf said. “The New York law has a crippling impact on integrity of these travel programs, and without access to New York records systems, our personnel are unable to conduct risk assessments to screen out criminal histories.”

Cuomo, however, said New York turns all of its criminal records over to the FBI and advised Homeland Security to obtain New York’s criminal records from the FBI.

Cuomo said the state will sue the “political hacks” to challenge the decision as arbitrary, capricious and politically motivated.

Cuomo specifically said President Donald Trump was engaging in extortion to punish New York and to win political points with his base of voters.

Not affected is the $85 “TSA Precheck” program, the most common of the fast-checkout plans.

Under the federal move, New Yorkers will no longer be able to join the Trusted Traveler Programs called Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST. In addition, the exporting of motor vehicles registered in New York State will be significantly delayed. Current New Yorkers in the programs will be able to continue but won’t be able to re-enroll once their five-year term expires.

Global Entry costs $100 and is available to American citizens, legal permanent residents and some foreign nationals. It can be used for air, land and sea travel. The NEXUS program costs $50 for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents as well as Canadian and Mexican residents and can be used for travel to and from Canada.

The SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) program costs $122.50 and can be used by U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and all foreign nationals to enter the United States from Canada and Mexico.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone issued a statement Feb. 8 regarding the Trusted Traveler Program ban. “Law enforcement should never be used as a weapon to target political opponents. We fought former DA Tom Spota for engaging in exactly that kind of abuse of power in Suffolk County. New York must fight back against the Trusted Traveler Program ban and latest abuse of power by this administration.”

State & Region