As of this morning, the White House has not revealed whether it would be willing to reverse the decision to prohibit New Yorkers from participating in the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Programs and accept a compromise offered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during his meeting yesterday with President Trump.
Business travelers, especially, have found the programs a useful way to save time and aggravation by speeding through security screening for air, land and sea travel. New Yorkers are now banned from making new applications or renewing existing enrollment in four distinct programs. They cover entry into the U.S. from overseas, entry into the U.S. from Canada, and entry into the U.S. from both Canada and Mexico. One program is just for truck drivers moving between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico.
Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf sent a letter dated Feb. 5 to the state Department of Motor Vehicles saying that because New York is preventing his agency from accessing DMV records, it will be unable to validate information on applicants for the programs and New Yorkers are out.
The Trump administration wants the states to turn over their driver’s license information to immigration officials. New York is one of 14 states and the District of Columbia that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses and it has a ban on allowing immigration officials access to the DMV database.
Cuomo, during his Feb. 13 meeting with Trump, proposed allowing Homeland Security to access DMV records concerning people who have applied for the Trusted Traveler Programs while maintaining exiting state prohibitions against the federal government being able to search DMV records for other purposes.
Complicating matters was a message Trump posted to his Twitter account before the meeting, which has been interpreted by some of his critics as an attempt to extort New York into dropping its lawsuits to obtain Trump’s financial and business records.
Trump’s Twitter post said: “I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo.”
The reference to “Fredo” apparently was meant to equate Cuomo’s brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, with a character named Fredo in the movie “The Godfather” who had less than stellar wisdom and intellect.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a House manager during Trump’s impeachment trial, said, “He’s holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud.”
U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York said, “This is what another quid pro quo by the president of the United States looks like,” equating the exclusion of New York from the Homeland Security programs to withholding funds from Ukraine, which had been appropriated by Congress.
Cuomo issued a Tweet last night that said, “Wrapped up my meeting with the President. I restated my initial solution: NY is willing to provide DMV records for NYers applying to TTP. He’s open to working with us on this and we’ll continue the conversation in the coming week.”
Earlier, Dani Lever, Cuomo’s communications director, issued a statement which said, in part: “As the Governor previously said, we believe DHS’s action was politically motivated and unwarranted as the FBI already has information regarding criminal records and TTP applicants already go through an extensive federal background check. The President said this is an issue he wants to work on and that he would follow up with the Governor next week.”
Wolf, who attended the Cuomo-Trump meeting, said it was productive.
The application process for the Trusted Traveler Programs requires an in-person meeting by the applicant with a federal investigator at a government facility. Business or personal travelers in Westchester who apply need to make an appointment for an interview in the government’s offices at either John F. Kennedy International Airport in Jamaica or the U.S. Customs House in Manhattan.
During an interview on the “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC, Cuomo pointed to an internal Homeland Security memo that had been leaked calling for certain states to be punished. “The next day they sue New Jersey, California, King County and they kick New York out of the program. This is about their politics,” he said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Feb. 10 announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its action.
“Time and again President Trump and his Washington enablers have gone out of their way to hurt New York and other blue states whenever they can as punishment for refusing to fall in line with their dangerous and divisive agenda,” James said.