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Cuomo says feds may have broken law in banning NYers from travel programs

Jul 24, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a briefing on Friday.
Credit Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that he’ll take legal action against the federal government after the U.S. Justice Department admitted in court papers Thursday that it was untruthful in its rationale for banning New Yorkers’ access to the Trusted Travel Program.  

The dispute between New York and the Trump Administration began in 2019, when the state allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for standard driver's 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 Dpartment of Motor Vechicles was blocking its access to some of the DMV's information, they could no longer safely issue fast-tracked air travel programs, including TSA PreCheck and the Global Entry programs.

The announcement of that ban came one day after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, which criticized New York’s immigration policies. 

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

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 that allow the immigrants access to driver's 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 said the actions were illegal and that the federal officials violated their oaths of office. He said the state intends to file criminal charges and possibly seek civil damages in court. 

The governor also said when the program was suspended in the winter, it backed up lines in airports. He said 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," Cuomo said. "Now you packed people into waiting rooms and on lines who didn’t need to be on the line because you were playing politics. How do you quantify that?"

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

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

New York’s senior U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, is also calling for a probe by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.