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Cuomo, Trump meet on suspension of 'trusted traveler' programs

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at his Manhattan office

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

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met behind closed doors at the White House on Thursday without reaching a compromise over Trump's recent order to remove New York from federal "trusted traveler" programs.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who sat in on the Oval Office meeting, described the session as "productive" and said discussions remain "ongoing" as Cuomo continues to press for New York's reinstatement in programs like "Global Entry" that expedite entry at U.S. airport security checkpoints

"Today, I joined President Trump and Governor Cuomo for a productive meeting. The relationship between New York State and the Federal government is very important but has been made difficult by the unilateral actions of New York State regarding the sharing of critical security information with DHS," Wolf said in a statement issued shortly after the more than hourlong meeting.

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking full access to New York's Department of Motor Vehicles database, after the state's new Green Light Law made it mandatory for the federal government to obtain individual court orders for each record. The law also cleared the way for people living in the country illegally to obtain state driver's license, a move Trump has spoken out against.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever in a statement said Trump told Cuomo "this is an issue he wants to work on and that he would follow up with the Governor next week."

Before departing to Washington, Cuomo said he did not have “a high expectation of success” when asked about the likelihood of persuading Trump to repeal the ban.

“Do I have a high expectation of success? No,” Cuomo said at a Manhattan press event. “But it makes me feel better that I did all I could … I feel that is my role.”

Trump took to Twitter shortly after Cuomo's press conference to call on Cuomo to drop state investigations and lawsuits surrounding Trump’s finances. He also revived a line of attack against Cuomo’s brother Chris, calling the CNN anchor "Fredo," a nickname that both Cuomo brothers have said is an ethnic slur.

“I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House," Trump tweeted. "He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!"

Cuomo arrived at the White House shortly after 3 p.m. and left just before 4:30 p.m., leaving through an exit that was out of view from reporters gathered outside of the West Wing. 

Cuomo, speaking at his earlier news conference, said if Trump refuses to overturn Homeland's decision on the trusted traveler programs, it would help New York’s lawsuit. That lawsuit claims the federal action made last week was done for political purposes and was punitive against the Democratic state, which has provided driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally.

A week ago, Homeland Security stopped accepting New Yorkers into its trusted traveler programs including Global Entry. The federal agency also said it won’t renew New Yorkers’ current memberships when they expire after five years. Federal officials blamed New York’s new Green Light Law, which provides lower level driver’s licenses to those living in the country illegally.

Cuomo defended restricting federal access to the state’s full DMV database, saying he feared the driver’s license records would be used by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to arrest and deport those immigrants in the country illegally.

Earlier Thursday, Cuomo said he would again propose his compromise to Trump and ask him to overrule his Homeland Security Department. Cuomo is proposing to allow the federal agency to request on a case-by-case basis the driver’s licenses of New Yorkers who apply and go through the lengthy process to join one of the trusted traveler programs reserved for U.S. citizens and legal residents. But Cuomo won’t turn over the records of those living in the country illegally, who he said wouldn’t apply for trusted traveler status out of fear of deportation in the first place.

Cuomo’s compromise has already been rejected by the Homeland Security acting director, who said the department needs the state’s entire database.

“I’m going to go and just present the facts,” Cuomo said. “If they are making a decision on the facts, I think they will agree with our decision … problem solved.”

If not, “we have a lawsuit,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said Trump’s denial will show the federal decision is an “abuse of power … that it’s all politics, and retaliation and reprisal because we give licenses to undocumented immigrants.”

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