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New York Announces it Will Sue Over Alleged Political Retribution

NYC Public Advocate candidate Letitia James at a rally, September 26, 2013 Date: 26 September 2013, 13:38 Source: Letitia James Author: Matthew Cohen

“No one should ever use our nation’s security as a political weapon, let alone the commander in chief” – New York Attorney General Letitia James

The Department of Homeland Security recently stopped accepting enrollments by New Yorkers in its trusted-traveler programs and the state will now sue over it, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced her plan to fight what she called “political retribution, plain and simple” Friday. 

Green Light of a Different Hue

New York and the federal department locked horns last year over the state’s new “green light” law, which went into effect in December, but for the most part, it had been a war of words. The law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver licenses and prohibits federal agents from accessing license records, except in cases where they have court-ordered warrants.

As Deanna Paul and Michelle Hackman reported for WSJ, New York is not unique in granting licenses to undocumented immigrants, but the legal provision locking DHS agencies — including Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — out of the state database is unprecedented. 

Unable to convince New York state legislators to abandon its plans to implement the new green light law, Washington turned to other means in an effort to squeeze compliance out of the state. Trusted Traveler programs include Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri, and FAST with a total of 9.6 million individuals enrolled, according to WSJ. For New York residents, the loss of Nexus and Sentri are particularly worrisome as they are designed to facilitate frequent border crossings between the US and Canada, and truck drivers rely on FAST to expedite their routes.

Provide Full Access, or Else

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said the only way for New York residents to regain access is for the state to reverse its decision. 

“If they want to allow CBP [Customs and Border Protection] to have full access as they have been, again for almost two decades,” Wolf explained in a CNN interview, “then we can certainly look at restoring access to those Trusted Traveler Programs and continue to process applicants.”

For Wolf, the issue revolves entirely around the state lockout of federal agencies and is not an immigration issue, tweeted. However, ICE officials are indeed affected by the measure, a fact Wolf called “equally concerning.”

Having access to drivers license database is critical when judging a Trusted Traveler application, Wolf argued, because it allows the DHS to evaluate traffic records for offenses such as DUI.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said the state was blindsided by the DHS decision, said the future lawsuit would revolve around a constitutional argument that New Yorkers are entitled to equal protection of the law. For Cuomo, the DHS treating his state differently does not live up to the constitutional standard.

“New York is not [Trump’s] political piñata,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference Friday. “It’s an abuse of power.”

As an alternative to giving the DHS access, the governor said the FBI is still authorized to view it, which the DHS can coordinate with to view license records. Instead of the surprise traveler enrollment ban, Washington could have worked with state legislators to “carve out law-enforcement exemptions.” 

Security Precaution or Vendetta?

This year, the memberships of 150,000 New York Trusted Travelers will expire and an additional 80,000 applicants will now be immediately denied, said Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. 

“Here we have one of the other targets of 9-11, New York, walking backwards quite intentionally in the other direction to bar the sharing of law-enforcement-relevant information,” Cuccinelli said.

“It makes every person more vulnerable when you shield pedophiles, child pornographers, human traffickers, and terrorists from law enforcement,” added DHS Spokeswoman Heather Swift, before the department locked New York residents out of Trusted Traveler programs. 

The Chairs of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees immediately asked Wolf to produce documents on how it arrived at the decision to ban New York travelers from programs, CNN reported. They also asked for “all communications within DHS, with the White House.” DHS’ decision was not only vindictive, but also illogical, they argued.

“[A] driver’s license is not even required to participate in these programs,” they wrote. “Indeed, citizens of a dozen foreign countries—who presumably do not possess US driver’s licenses—can continue to enroll.” 

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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