ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday said he won’t seek to alter or repeal a new state law that provides driver’s licenses to immigrants without proper documentation even after the Trump administration decreed that New Yorkers will no longer be able to enroll in some programs that allow travelers to use special faster lines at airport security checkpoints.
The federal order states that New York’s progressive “Green Light Law” hinders Transportation Security Administration officials from protecting national security and public safety. It comes after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday in which he criticized “sanctuary cities” such as New York City, which have taken a stand to protect immigrants without proper documentation from federal immigration enforcement.
In a letter to the state Department of Motor Vehicles dated Wednesday, the federal Department of Homeland Security said the state must change the law.
“New York’s ‘Green Light Law’ is ill-conceived and the department is forced to take this action to ensure the integrity of our Trusted Traveler Programs. It’s very clear: this irresponsible action has consequences,” said acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. “An aspect of the law which I’m most concerned about is that it prohibits the DMV from providing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] with important data used in law enforcement, trade, travel, and homeland security.”
Cuomo called the decision a “political stunt.”
“There is no rational basis, it’s all politics,” Cuomo told WAMC-FM public radio in Albany on Thursday.
The state Green Light Law effective Dec. 14 allows immigrants without proper documentation for legally living in the United States to obtain a specific level of driver’s license, which is identified as “not for federal purposes” and beginning in October can’t be used as identification needed to board airplanes.
The law doesn’t block information from federal agents, but it requires a court order before the data are released.
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 and could be costlier,” Wolf stated.
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. This 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.
Homeland Security estimates 175,000 New Yorkers are enrolled in these programs and another 80,000 are applying for them.
Not affected is the “TSA Precheck” program, the most common of the fast-checkout plans with a less rigorous background check and approval process. It costs $85 for a five-year membership and also allows the bearer (either an American citizen or a legal permanent resident of the United States) to go through security without removing shoes, liquids, laptop computers, belts and light jackets. Foreign citizens can join the TSA Precheck program after meeting residency requirements. It can be used only for air travel.
The Trusted Traveler programs already require “proof of citizenship,” a face-to-face interview with a federal official lasting about 10 minutes, fingerprinting and document checks. Other requirements include “proof that you are allowed to enter the United States” and, for immigrants, a “permanent resident card (if you are a lawful permanent resident of the United States),” according to DHS.
Because of that, state officials say, the federal decision would likely have little impact on public safety because those in the country illegally are unlikely to go through a process that requires them to prove U.S. citizenship.
“To get this Global Entry Pass, you have to do an in-person interview with a federal official,” Cuomo said. “You have to sit before a federal official who looks at you and says, ‘Let me see your passport, let me see your date of birth, let me see your Social Security card.’ If you are an undocumented person … you're not going to go for an in-person interview in front of a federal official.”
“So they don't need anything from [the state] because they have you right in front of them,” Cuomo said. “So it's all politics, they want to make their political point, which is they're anti-immigrant."
Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor who has studied government’s intersection with the law, agreed that the order plays to President Trump’s base.
However, Bonventre said, “legally — legally — the executive branch has such extraordinary authority … over immigration matters that as long as there is arguably a legitimate reason, it’s legal. It’s constitutional. They don’t need much, they just need a sliver of rationality for it to be constitutionally valid.”
The Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly that passed the Green Light Law didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
State Senate Republican leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the federal action isn’t about politics, but about public safety.
“The intent of the [state] law is to prevent immigrant enforcement,” Flanagan said in an interview. “When you flout the law and you say you won’t be cooperative, you own that behavior. There are ramifications.”