ALBANY — The U.S. Department of Justice and Congress must investigate after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security admitted department officials lied to justify banning the state’s Trusted Traveler Program earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
New Yorkers can enroll or re-enroll in federal Trusted Traveler programs once the nation’s borders reopen, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced Thursday.
The state sued the Department of Homeland Security after the Trump administration halted the program in New York on Feb. 5 after the state enacted its Green Light Law, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
The state denied the Department of Motor Vehicles to share driver’s license information of undocumented immigrants with the federal government. The federal government halted the program in retaliation, according to a leaked Feb. 10 Department of Homeland security memo.
“It has been six months since they started this political exploitation of New York,” Cuomo said Friday during a briefing in the state Capitol. “It’s been six months since they clearly had no basis whatsoever to do this.”
The department dropped the suit Thursday, citing the state Legislature’s April 1 amendment to the Green Light Law included in the state budget, because the state will allow the federal government to see the driver’s license information of undocumented immigrants who apply for programs such as Nexus and Global entry.
“[The] revelation was that there were other states besides New York that have a Green Light Law,” according to a department brief on the matter filed Thursday.
Federal lawyers admitted on Thursday department officials made false statements earlier this year to justify its TPP ban in New York. Federal officials consistently and inaccurately insisted New York’s limitations on access to the state Department of Motor Vehicles database were unlike any other state, according to a statement from Cuomo’s office.
“It is impossible the Department of Homeland Security just figured that out yesterday afternoon,” Cuomo said. “You just realized the state of the laws in this country yesterday? Is that at all plausible? Is that at all credible?”
The governor repeatedly argued more than a dozen other U.S. states, including Republican-run and red-voting states, have similar laws to New York’s controversial Green Light measure, which was upheld in two federal court challenges in November and December.
The state Legislature’s amendment of the Green Light Law, while not exactly what the federal agency wanted, allowed DHS to reopen those programs to New Yorkers, Wolf said.
“We appreciate the information sharing to CBP for the Trusted Traveler program,” he said Thursday. “Nonetheless, local New York law continues to maintain provisions that undermine the security of the American people and purport to criminalize information sharing between law enforcement entities.”
Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Deputy Ken Cuccinelli violated their oath of office by illegally using their department and TPP as a political tool, Cuomo said.
“I believe Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli have possible criminal liability — I believe there is civil liability,” the governor added. “It was a clear abuse of government power for political purposes. ... You can’t play politics with government. You can’t use the Department of Justice as a political tool. You can’t use the Department of Homeland Security as a political tool — it doesn’t work that way. And it’s not just ‘not right’ and unethical and immoral, it’s illegal. It is illegal what they did.”
About 200,000 New Yorkers use federal Trusted Traveler programs, which allows a person to be pre-cleared on border checks before landing in the state after an in-person interview and presentation of documentation certifying U.S. citizenship. The program helps eliminate crowds at customs at airports statewide.
Without the TTP, lines at state airports backed up in February and March. A recent Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports showed 3 million European travelers who landed in New York airports in February and March brought the coronavirus to the East Coast, which infected the entire Eastern Seaboard.
The overwhelming crowds or long lines packed customs and border patrol in tight, dense areas in airports, which Cuomo said likely contributed to the state’s early spread of COVID-19. The virus has killed 32,270 New Yorkers to date, according to Johns Hopkins University’s online coronavirus tracker.
“It was all politics all the time,” Cuomo said. “It was all exploitation all the time, and they hurt this state because of it. ... They were playing their political games and they backed up the lines of people waiting to get through Customs and Border Patrol in dense areas, in tight quarters, waiting on a line because they were playing politics.”
The state will pursue civil damages from the Department of Homeland Security. The lack of TTP in New York backed up commerce at the state’s Canadian border crossings for the past six months, in addition to potentially exacerbating the state’s coronavirus situation,
“We have to figure out how we would quantify the damages,” Cuomo said. “It hurt New Yorkers who would be traveling. It caused the Port Authority more money to run.”
New York State Police and the State Liquor Authority issued violations to 37 New York City establishments Friday after more than 1,100 compliance checks on Long Island, in Queens, Manhattan and several New York City neighborhoods for businesses not following state COVID-19 mandates, such as social distancing or wearing face masks in public.
“So they’re doing their job, they’re doing it aggressively, but again, the state police and the SLA are not going to be enough,” the governor said. “Local government, stand up and do your job.
“We went up the mountain, we went down the mountain. New Yorkers flattened the curve, but we don’t want to do it again. One and done. Thank you, but no thank you.”
Cuomo also announced Friday the Toronto Blue Jays will play home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo this season.
State officials continue to monitor New York’s COVID-19 numbers as the virus soars in the U.S. The state reported 56 fewer virus patients in New York hospitals Friday, bringing the total to 650 hospitalized — the first time dipping below 700 since March 18.
Thirteen New Yorkers died from the virus Thursday, including seven in hospitals and two in nursing homes, down from 13 Wednesday. The state’s virus-related fatalities have fluctuated below 15 per day for several weeks.
The state reported 753 new COVID-19 cases, or about 0.98% positive, of the 76,507 tests conducted Thursday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a low, consistent positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.5% or lower.
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.