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Cuomo describes proposal to restore NYers to 'trusted traveler' programs at airports

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying to get the federal government to again allow New Yorkers to join or re-register for "trusted traveler" programs. Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday made public another option to get the Trump administration to restore New Yorkers to “trusted traveler” programs to help them speed through airports security checkpoints, while also issuing a warning to New York law enforcement agencies that might provide full driver's license data to federal officials.

Cuomo said he offered to provide the driver’s license records that the Trump administration demands, but without any reference to Social Security numbers, which could identify people who are in the country illegally.

Cuomo said he had previously offered this option to federal officials in private meetings and it was rejected.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Heather Swift in Washington wouldn't comment on Cuomo's proposal Friday but said discussions continue to resolve the issue and return New Yorkers to the trusted traveler programs.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency insists it needs full access to the state driver’s license records for investigations of violent felonies beyond immigration. But the state’s new Green Light Law that provides driver’s licenses to people who aren’t in the country legally also cut federal immigration officials out of the full database.

That prompted the Trump administration to ban New Yorkers from entering or re-registering in many trusted traveler programs, including Global Entry, which is commonly used by international business travelers.

Cuomo also reiterated that he will never provide records to the federal immigration enforcement agency that can be used to identify and locate immigrants in the country illegally.

On Thursday, more than a dozen upstate Republican sheriffs stood with ICE officials at a news conference in Troy, across the Hudson River from Albany, to say Cuomo is making the state less safe and that the federal officers need all driver’s license records. Cuomo late Friday issued another statement aimed at any law enforcement agency that could provide full data to federal immigration enforcement agents, despite the Green Light Law.

"Many national, state and local law enforcement agencies currently have access to our DMV database," Cuomo said. "The potential for surreptitious access to the database is very real. I am exploring alternatives to minimize the harm caused by unauthorized use of our database such as removal of Social Security numbers ... and increasing the penalty for unauthorized use of the DMV database."

On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security rejected Cuomo’s first compromise plan, which would have provided driver's license information only for those who applied for trusted traveler programs, which are available only to U.S. citizens and legal residents. Cuomo suggested that no one living in the country illegally would apply for those programs.

Also Friday, Cuomo expressed concern the federal government next would try to exclude New Yorkers from the timesaving TSA Precheck program at airports if the state continues to deny driver’s license records to the Trump administration.

Swift called Cuomo’s speculation “false.”

Acting Customs Director Matthew Albence said Thursday the dispute was not about immigration but about law enforcement. Albence said his agency needs the full state database of licensed drivers to secure search warrants and investigate crimes including murder, rape and child sex abuse.

Albence also said the records would be used in enforcing immigration laws but denied ICE would use them to find and deport immigrants.

 Cuomo accused the Trump administration of “playing a game ... What’s going on is, ‘Let’s increase pressure on the governor.’ So, now I have all the trusted travelers calling me: ‘Please do whatever you have to do. I don’t want to wait on line.’”

“I think they are doing it to increase pressure and increase pressure until I say, ‘OK, I will give you the DMV database,’” Cuomo said. “And I won’t do that.”

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