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Cuomo: Feds May Have Broken Law By Banning NYers From Travel Programs

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking March 25, 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’ll take legal action against the federal government, after the Justice Department admitted in court papers Thursday that it was untruthful in its rationale for banning New Yorkers’ access to the Trusted Traveler Program.

The dispute between New York and the Trump administration began in 2019, when the state allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for standard drivers licenses. It also barred the federal government from obtaining information about the immigrants through those licenses. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security claimed that because New York’s DMV was blocking their access to some of the agencies information, they could no longer safely issue fast tracked air travel programs, including TSA pre-check and the Trusted Traveler Global Entry programs. The announcement of the ban came one day after President Trump’s State of the Union speech, which criticized New York’s immigration policies.  

Cuomo, at the time, argued that several other states already offered drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, and New York was being singled out for political reasons. 

"If fifteen other states have the same 'green light program' why just New York?" Cuomo said. "There are Republican states that have the green light program." 

In papers filed Thursday in a lawsuit brought by the state, the acting U.S. Attorney for Southern New York admitted that its argument was inaccurate, and that New York’s policies were not different than over a dozen other states who allow the immigrants access to drivers licenses. New Yorkers were immediately reinstated into the Trusted Traveler programs. 

“They got caught,” Cuomo said. “It was all politics all the time. It was all exploitation all the time. And they hurt this state because of it.” 

Cuomo says the actions were “illegal” and the federal officials violated their oaths of office. He says the state intends to file criminal charges and possibly seek civil damages in court.   

The governor also says when the program, which fast tracked some flyers through customs, was suspended in February, it backed up lines in airports. He says the policy might have contributed to the COVID-19 crisis that hit New York in March and April and killed thousands, because in February, people were flying to New York City’s airports, from Europe and were infected with the virus.  

“It is at the exact same time that we know COVID is coming in on European flights. And now you packed people into waiting rooms and on lines who didn’t need to be on the line because you were playing politics,” Cuomo said. “How do you quantify that?” 

Cuomo admits he does not have any hard data to back up that claim. 

He’s also asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, both Democrats, to launch an investigation.  

New York’s senior U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader, is also calling for a probe by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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