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New York sues over DHS decision to pull access to expedited travel services

Matt Ryan New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that New York is suing the federal government over the decision to ban state residents from travel services programs that expedite travel across borders, including Global Entry and NEXUS cards.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it was no longer allowing New Yorkers to apply for expedited travel services to make it through customs faster at major airports and across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Those who are already enrolled in the programs can continue to use them until they expire but cannot renew them. 

DHS blames a recent New York law, known as the Green Light Law, that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Under that statute, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are prevented from access to New York's DMV database. 

But Cuomo said federal officials don't need the DMV data to vet applicants since they bring all of the relevant documents to a required in-person meeting with customs officials. 

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"You don't have to be a licensed driver to qualify for the federal trusted traveler program," Cuomo said. "It is pure politics."

Cuomo said the fight is personal. He said it's about President Donald Trump treating New York as a "political punching bag" to cater to red states. And, he said, it's also about ICE wanting to get the DMV data to go after undocumented immigrants and deport them.

The governor said he will never allow that data to be turned over to ICE.

"Don't try to extort me, and don't try to extort New Yorkers," Cuomo said. "It won't work. It didn't even work with Ukraine. Learn the lesson."

The governor said ICE can still get any criminal records it might need from the FBI.

State Attorney General Tish James said she will argue in court that the DHS "violated New York's sovereign immunity" by not providing New Yorkers with equal protection and is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner that denies state residents their constitutional rights and privileges.

Republicans in state government say it's the fault of Cuomo and the Democratic-led state Legislature for passing the Green Light Law to begin with.

Nick Langworthy, the chair of the state's Republican Party, said the Democrats are "on the side of law-breakers over citizen taxpayers." Langworthy spoke about the issue earlier in the week.

"Anybody who is upset about this needs to call the governor," Langworthy said, "and say, 'Why did you do this?' "

The lawsuit has not yet been filed, but Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said it will be soon.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.