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Cuomo: I'll meet with Trump over trusted traveler programs

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a bill signing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a bill signing ceremony in New York on Feb. 25, 2019. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he will meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday to try to restore New Yorkers to “trusted traveler” programs at airport security checkpoints by offering a compromise in which the state would provide some of the driver's license records the federal government demands.

Cuomo will tell Trump that he will provide state driver’s license records on a case-by-case basis, but only for the trusted traveler programs. He said he won’t turn over the Department of Motor Vehicles database that includes immigrants here illegally, a Cuomo official said Wednesday.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had rejected the compromise when Cuomo first proposed it last week. But Cuomo will ask Trump on Thursday to overrule the department.

Federal officials said they need the whole Department of Motor Vehicles database — as they have from other states — to make background checks of individuals.

“I will never give access to the DMV data base,” Cuomo said. “I think that’s what they really want … so ICE can have a feeding frenzy and attack undocumented people.”

A White House official confirmed the meeting.

Cuomo admitted Trump likely won't accept his proposal, but Cuomo said he is trying to make a political point.

“I’m calling their bluff,” he told WAMC public radio in Albany. “It’s calling their bluff because if they don’t accept this, then they are admitting they are just playing politics.”

“I am going to strip away any patina … of government authenticity and expose the sham,” Cuomo said. 

Federal Homeland Security officials blocked New Yorkers from joining and renewing membership in trusted traveler programs including Global Entry because of the state’s Green Light Law. That law, effective Dec. 14, provides low-level driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally and also denied those records to federal officials. Cuomo said he fears federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would use those records to find, arrest and deport immigrants.

Cuomo’s proposal to Trump will be to provide driver’s license records for individuals after they have entered the lengthy process to join the federal trusted traveler programs. That includes verification of citizenship or legal residence and requires a face-to-face interview with a federal official.

New York “is the only state that has restricted access,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said on Friday. “If they want to allow (Customs and Border Protection) to have full access as they have been, again for almost two decades … then we can certainly look at restoring access to those Trusted Traver Programs and continue to process applicants.”

One of Cuomo’s arguments against the federal ban is that the state Green Light Law allows federal officials to obtain driver’s license records by a court order.

Cuomo had argued the driver’s licenses weren’t needed because no immigrant here illegally is going to face a federal official because of the risk of deportation.

“You could never apply for (trusted traveler program) status if you are undocumented because you would be turning yourself in to the federal government,” Cuomo said. “You would never do that.”

Instead, Cuomo claims Trump has a political, rather than a public safety aim.

“They just want to make political hay out of it because immigration is a big issue for them and they want to use immigration in the elections,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “Everything he does is political.”

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

With Tom Brune

State & Region