The acting secretary of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that New York state residents can no longer participate in certain Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry, due to provisions in the state’s new “Green Light Law” supporting undocumented immigrants.
The law, which went into effect in December, allows undocumented immigrants to apply for New York driver’s licenses while protecting applicants’ information from immigration enforcement agencies.
“Today, we sent a letter to New York indicating, because they took these measures, that New York residents are no longer eligible to enroll in these Trusted Traveler Programs,” acting Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday.
New York state residents cannot “enroll or re-enroll” in the programs “because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements, so we need to do our job,” Wolf added.
Since the law “prevents DHS from accessing New York DMV records in order to determine whether a (Trusted Traveler Program) applicant or re-applicant meets program eligibility requirements, New York residents will no longer be eligible to enroll or re-enroll in CBP’s Trusted Travel Programs,” according to a copy obtained by Fox News and confirmed to CNN by a source familiar with the letter.
The letter states that the Green Light Law will impede Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “objective of protecting the people of New York from menacing threats to national security and public safety,” the letter adds. The department published the letter Thursday.
The letter lists four such programs that are managed by US Customs and Border Protection: Global Entry, which allows for faster clearance in customs for participants when they enter the US; NEXUS, which allows for quicker border crossing for qualified travelers between the US and Canada; Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), another program that allows for quicker clearance for qualified travelers when they arrive in the US; and the Free And Secure Trade (FAST) program, which allows for quicker clearance for commercial shipments crossing the US border from Canada or Mexico.
The letter does not mention the Transportation Security Administration’s Precheck program, in a seemingly targeted effort to punish New York for the law while limiting problems at airports for TSA.
“Travelers currently enrolled in DHS trusted traveler programs will continue to receive TSA PreCheck™ status,” a TSA statement said Thursday.
However, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said Thursday that while PreCheck is not currently on the list, it doesn’t mean it cannot be in the future. Ordinary passage at the borders with passport or license that allows border crossing will not be affected, he added.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told CNN the state would review the directive from the Department of Homeland Security.
“This is obviously political retaliation by the federal government and we’re going to review our legal options,” Azzopardi said.
On Thursday, Cuomo called the federal government’s changes to the Trusted Traveler Programs “pure politics,” saying, “it has nothing to do with affecting government policy or laws.”
Appearing on a local radio show WAMC, Cuomo said while New York is supporting immigrants, the federal government is “anti-immigrant.” “New York is supporting immigrants and this is another way to make their political point and if they have to inconvenience New Yorkers to make their political point so be it.”
A federal law enforcement official told CNN that Customs and Border Protection in New York had not received an official directive from headquarters as of late Wednesday night. The official said the directive might come Thursday morning, and would likely be an order from the Department of Homeland Security sent to CBP headquarters before it is sent to CBP officials in New York.
Cuccinelli on Thursday in a briefing called New York’s Green Light law “thoughtless” and “dangerous” in terms of its unintended consequences.
Invoking 9/11 terror attacks, Cuccinelli said the state of New York – which suffered in the attack - was “walking backwards” in the other direction of sharing law-enforcement relevant information, like vehicle registrations, matching driver licenses to identifications, and criminal records, which are kept up to date in DMV databases.
Questioned about the relevance of a passport as a basis for entry in the Homeland Security traveler programs, Cuccinelli said, “A passport is not an adequate way to get into any of our Trusted Traveler Programs.”
“The problem isn’t so much the document itself, it’s the barring of access by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles to our ability to see. For instance: Do you have a fugitive warrant? What’s your criminal record? Up to date. We cannot see those things with New York barring it. So, the passport will get you over the border, but it will not get you entry into any of our Trusted Traveler Programs,” he said.
He expects this to impact initially approximately 50,000-80,000 New Yorkers immediately – noting that 50,000 individuals have been conditionally approved, but have not completed their interview who will be “cut off.” He added 30,000 New York residents are currently pending the vetting process.
Ultimately he anticipates by the end of 2020 roughly 175,000 New Yorkers would be kicked out of the programs, with no others able to join.
He also estimates 30,000 drivers in the FAST program, which come and go at four New York and Canadian ports of entry, will lose access to the automated system.
Answering a question on whether a New York state resident with Nexus card could still cross the border, Cuccinelli said yes, but it cannot be renewed.
During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Thursday, a top Customs and Border Protection official defended the department’s move, saying he was “not aware” of other states blocking information to the agency.
“My understanding is New York State, because of the law that they passed, you know without consultation, shut off the access to motor vehicle data, which included driver’s license information, license plate registration, vehicle registration information,” he said. “So, in our operations, any of the work that we do where we would use that information to help validate an identity, an address, a vehicle, ownership of a vehicle, is impacted by not being able to do that directly.”
Wagner said that California, although it offers divers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants, has a separate agreement where CBP continues to access the information.
Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from New York, slammed the administration for what she said was an attempt by President Donald Trump to “punish” New York. “This is going to have an enormous impact on people, many of whom entered into this program because their jobs require them to travel internationally,” she said.
Rice told Wagner that “not aware” about agreements with other states was not a “sufficient answer” and promised to follow up.
“I have Global Entry, so when I go to renew it, I’m not going to be able to do it?” Rice inquired. Wagner responded: “correct.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were exasperated about how the administration handled the situation.
“Come on,” said Max Rose, a New York Republican, when Wagner declined to answer whether Congress should have been notified ahead of the announcement.
“This is ridiculous. That’s a simple question,” said Rose, who said he does not support the New York law. “We heard about this from Fox News. This is politics at its worst. We are talking about acting like professionals right now.”
The move comes following Trump’s comments on Tuesday during the State of the Union address lambasting cities that protect undocumented immigrants.
“Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal, illegal aliens,” he said. “In sanctuary cities local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed.”
Former acting ICE Director John Sandweg told CNN that sanctuary policies do not affect how the Department of Homeland Security vets people for Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs.
“This is just irrational in the sense that sanctuary policies in no way shape or form affect DHS’ ability to vet people for global entry and other trusted traveler programs,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous, and it’s politicizing a program that’s not about politics. It’s trying to match two totally unrelated things. It’s just ridiculous,” he said, adding, “It’s the kind of thing that’s going to, frankly, politicize the department in a way that’s going to undermine its mission moving forward.”
Impact already felt
Federal authorities were in touch with New York officials at CBP Thursday morning and instructed them to carry out the ban on New York residents looking to enroll in Trusted Traveler Programs, according to a law enforcement official.
There isn’t expected to be any immediate fallout but what will start happening is applications that have already been submitted or appointments that have already been made with new applicants will be canceled, the official said.
This does not affect anyone who already has this status until their renewal process begins, at which point they won’t be able to, said the official.
The impact of the administration’s announcement was already being felt at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport Thursday morning.
CNN spoke to Emma Weber at the airport, who said she booked a Global Entry appointment two months ago and received no notification that it was canceled Thursday.
When she arrived, she was told by a CBP official that her appointment was canceled and she could have the opportunity to reschedule should there be a change in policy.
She did not receive any information about getting a refund for the application.
“It’s super inconvenient,” she told CNN, saying she planned to travel internationally next week.
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Mark Morales and Sonia Moghe, Anna Sturla, Yon Pomrenze, Brynn Gingras and Sarah Jorgensen
contributed to this report.