WASHINGTON -- New York residents will be cut off from “trusted traveler” programs that speed their re-entry into the country, a senior Homeland Security official said Thursday, blaming a new state law that prohibits immigration agents from accessing motor vehicle records.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers will face the inconvenience of slower re-entry because of a law that acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli says puts public safety at risk by preventing federal agents from quickly accessing vehicle and criminal records.
“I know other states are looking at laws like this,” Cuccinelli said. “We would urge them to reconsider.”
The decision to freeze New Yorkers' access to Global Entry and three other programs, which the New York governor dismissed as “extortion,” reflects an escalation of the conflict between President Donald Trump and states and cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants in the country without legal authorization.
New York's “Green Light” law, which went into effect in December, allows people to get a driver's license even if they don't have legal residency in the United States. It includes a provision prohibiting the Department of Motor Vehicles from providing any data to entities that enforce immigration law unless a judge orders it to do so.
That makes it a target for Trump, who has made immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his presidency and knows it's a subject that motivates his base. The sweeping move came a day after Trump slammed New York in his State of the Union address.
The DHS action on trusted travelers could have economic consequences. It applies to nearly 30,000 commercial truck drivers enrolled in a program that eases their crossing at four U.S.-Canada ports of entry in upstate New York.
Cuccinelli told reporters on a conference call that the New York law endangers the public and federal agents, who can't quickly confirm someone's identification, check for fugitive warrants or see if a person has a criminal record.
“Obviously, we would urge New York to undo that law and restore some sanity to its own attempts to help preserve public safety,” he said.
New York state officials and other administration critics dismissed the DHS action as a political stunt, noting the trusted traveler programs don't require a driver's license. Participants must submit a passport, fingerprints and undergo background checks, allowing them streamlined return to the U.S.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended the Green Light law, saying it improved public safety by ensuring drivers have licenses regardless of their immigration status. The state barred immigration agents from accessing the records to prevent the government from using DMV records to deport people in the country without legal residency.
The governor said Homeland Security made no effort to work with state officials to work out an alternative way to access criminal records before deciding to suspend New Yorkers from the trusted traveler programs. “They didn't do that," he said, “They just issued a letter press release immediately because it's all politics."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, called the action “political retribution” by the federal government. “There is no factual basis for this policy,” she said. "Its true design is to punish New York for embracing diversity and inclusion.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said suspending access to Global Entry and the other programs will undermine border security and make travel less efficient. “Congress needs to respond to this abuse of power,” he said.
Global Entry and the three other traveler programs enable people to enter the U.S. without having to pass through the standard immigration and customs checkpoints.
The permits must be renewed every five years. Cuccinelli said about 175,000 New York residents in trusted traveler programs will be kicked out over the course of 2020 as their permits expire.
At the U.S. Customs House in lower Manhattan, where there is an office in which Global Entry interviews are held, a federal employee was turning away people Thursday if they were New York residents.
DHS will also immediately remove about 50,000 people who were given conditional approval and were awaiting completion of an interview for full membership along with 30,000 who have submitted an application and hadn't yet been approved.
The agency said the export of vehicles from New York will also be “significantly” delayed because the Green Light law hinders its ability to validate documents used to establish ownership.
Cuccinelli said DHS is considering additional penalties against New York and evaluating the progress of a similar proposal in Washington state. “They should know that their citizens are going to lose the convenience of entering these trusted traveler programs just as New York’s did," he said.
Other states have allowed people in the country without legal authorization to obtain a driver's license, but New York is the only state that has banned the Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing records with DHS, Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the agency, said on Twitter.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently sent subpoenas to law enforcement in Denver and New York seeking information on immigrants they hope to deport, and federal prosecutors in New York say they’re prepared to take the subpoena to court to enforce contempt charges if law enforcement doesn’t comply.
DHS officials have said efforts to interfere with immigration enforcement keep them from upholding U.S. laws and endanger public safety by thwarting the deportation of criminals.
Associated Press writers Ryan Tarinelli in Albany, New York; Deepti Hajela in New York City; and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.