Chad Wolf, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sent a letter to New York’s motor vehicle commissioners on Wednesday informing them that New York citizens would no longer be allowed to sign up for the “Trusted Traveler” programs administered by Customs and Border Protection.
The programs are a means of vetting frequent international travelers, who receive easier or expedited customs screening once enrolled. The decision to bar citizens of New York from signing up follows a new state law there that seeks to protect undocumented immigrants from unwarranted surveillance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
New York’s law, known as the Green Light Law, went into effect in December and allows motor vehicle departments in the state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. It also provides that the departments’ data on license-holders may not be handed over to federal authorities without a court order. The provision is of a piece with many “sanctuary city” policies advanced by some states and municipalities in response to the Trump administration’s immigration crack-down.
According to Wolf’s letter, “the Act prevents DHS from accessing relevant information that only New York DMV maintains, including some aspects of an individual’s criminal history.” The now-limited access ICE has to view these DMV records, the letter says, “requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS’s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised.” Thus, New Yorkers are no longer eligible to enroll or re-enroll in Trusted Traveler programs like TSA pre-check.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to the move in a radio interview on Thursday. He called DHS’s decision “pure politics.” “Normally in a situation like this, a law enforcement situation, where you have all sorts of cooperation, State Police who are working with the FBI, et cetera. They would call and then would say you know we need this information.” Instead, contends Cuomo, DHS has singled out New York among many states that have similar laws, “in furtherance of the President’s promise to keep America safe from the immigrants which is clearly a political purpose.”
Wolf’s letter claimed that the Green Light Law “will impede ICE’s objective of protecting the people of New York from menacing threats to national security and public safety.” The connection between ICE, undocumented immigrants, and the Trusted Traveler programs, however, Cuomo called “ludicrous.” For those programs, he said, “you have to do an in-person interview. It has nothing to do with a state database.”
According to Wolf’s Wednesday letter, the new rules for New Yorkers will remain in effect while the department reviews “operations related to New York to assess and mitigate the Act’s adverse impact on national security and law enforcement.”