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NY sues over federal suspension of 'trusted traveler' programs

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference at his Manhattan office on Jan. 23. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — The state filed a lawsuit Monday against the Trump administration to try to overturn a federal suspension of New Yorkers from joining “trusted traveler” programs, which allow preapproved citizens to get through airport security faster.

"We are fighting back and will be using every tool available to us to do so," said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Attorney General Letitia James in filing the suit argued that the Trump administration is using the "trusted traveler" programs as a "political weapon."

"The Trump Administration's new policy not only negatively impacts travelers, workers, commerce, and our economy, but it jeopardizes public safety," James said. "No one should ever use our nation's security as a political weapon, let alone the commander in chief."

The lawsuit argues in part that the federal action is unconstitutional and “defies” the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which called for a program serving prequalified international travelers for use in all states and territories. The lawsuit contends that the federal action has “intentionally made us less safe.”

The result for all travelers will be "longer lines, strained security resources, and heightened security risks," the lawsuit states. "Wait time at border crossings in New York directly impacts New York’s economy."

The impact will be great on Long Island, where many travelers regularly fly internationally for business, to meet family, and for vacations, said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). He said the order hurts New York the way Trump's tax law, which limited the deductibity of state and local taxes, did.

“This is an economic factor that like SALT adversely impacts New Yorkers and Long Islanders especially," Lavine said.

The Buffalo office of the U.S. Department of Justice said the federal government needs driver’s license records for law enforcement, to obtain search warrants and to make informed decisions on when to stop a vehicle.

“Prohibiting basic information sharing between New York state and federal law enforcement agencies means that more criminals will enter and roam freely in our state and nation … and jeopardizes the safety of all of the inhabitants of our great country,” according to the Justice Department statement signed by U.S. attorneys statewide.

Earlier Monday, Cuomo said he is waiting to hear from the White House on his formal request for a meeting to negotiate an end to the conflict, which raged over the weekend. Cuomo said there is hope for New York travelers because Trump’s position is “bizarre and illegal and retaliatory and gratuitous.”

"I said I want a meeting and he said he would call tomorrow, which is today, and they would set up a meeting so we'll see what happens," Cuomo said Monday in announcing the development on WAMC public radio in Albany.

Cuomo had turned up the heat on the feud Friday when he accused Trump of “political extortion.” There was no immediate comment from the White House.

Hanging in the balance are 175,000 New Yorkers who benefit from the 'trusted traveler" programs such as Global Entry, which allow prequalified travelers to enter and exit U.S. borders by air, sea and land using much shorter lines and to avoid removing shoes, belts and light jackets. Another 80,000 have applied for the programs. Some of the programs also serve truckers making frequent border crossings to Canada.

New Yorkers already in the programs won't be able to re-enroll after their five-year membership expires.

The ban does not include the five-year TSA Precheck program for airport screening.

Last week, the federal Department of Homeland Security said it was imposing the restrictions because of the state’s Green Light Law, which became effective Dec. 14. That law allows immigrants without proper documentation to obtain a low-level driver’s license that is “not for federal purposes.” But the law also denies federal immigration enforcement agencies access to the state Department of Motor Vehicle records unless they obtain a court order.

On Friday the acting director of Homeland Security said he would restore New Yorkers to the program if Cuomo changed or repealed the law.

Cuomo flatly refused that offer, calling it “political extortion.”

The governor has said federal agents have been harsh in aggressively arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants, including those who have lived for years and prospered in New York or who are seeking asylum from terrorists and thugs.

Cuomo said over the weekend that the federal Homeland Security Department could get all the criminal records it needs from the FBI. The state already provides the FBI with all its criminal records.

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