Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Friday that New Yorkers will regain access to Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs only if the state grants access to its motor vehicle database.
Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security abruptly stopped New York state residents from enrolling or reenrolling in these programs due to provisions in the state’s new “Green Light Law” supporting undocumented immigrants. New Yorkers found out about the change Wednesday night on Fox News or when they arrived at the airport for their appointments.
“If they want to allow CBP [Customs and Border Protection] to have full access as they have been, again for almost two decades,” Wolf told CNN in one of his first interviews since the ban took effect, “then we can certainly look at restoring access to those Trusted Traveler Programs and continue to process applicants.”
The feud between the Trump administration and New York state reached new highs earlier this week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that ending access to the programs was “pure politics.”
On Friday, New York announced plans to sue the Trump administration over its decision to suspend Global Entry and other programs. New York Attorney General Letitia James said the new policy “will negatively impact travelers, workers, commerce, and our economy,” adding that the state will “fight the president’s shortsighted crusade against his former home.”
“We will not allow New Yorkers to be targeted or bullied by an authoritarian thug,” she said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers also expressed alarm over the change, peppering a top customs official Thursday about how the ban will be carried out and why Congress had not been notified ahead of time.
On Saturday, the chairs of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees wrote to Wolf, demanding that he immediately reverse “this senseless, retaliatory decision” and turn over any documents from DHS on its decision making, including any communications with the White House.
“We are concerned that the Department’s policy change may be an improper attempt to use official DHS policy to punish the punish the people of New York because their state government has a political disagreement with the Trump Administration over immigration policy,” the House leaders, along with three other Democratic lawmakers from New York on their committees, wrote.
Wolf said he had talked to Cuomo on Thursday and “he certainly expressed his concerns.”
The state law at issue expands the forms of identification that can be used by applicants to obtain a driver’s license, including foreign passports and a foreign driver’s license, while protecting applicants’ information from immigration enforcement agencies.
Wolf said the Department of Motor Vehicles database gives DHS insight into whether a Trusted Traveler applicant has a DUI or another aggregated traffic offense – information he says is no longer available.
When asked if other states could face similar restrictions, Wolf said New York is the only state that restricts Customs and Border Protection’s access to law enforcement data. He said it is “equally concerning” that the state has restricted access to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, issuing a veiled threat that “there’s other steps that we can certainly take on that.”
Last month, immigration officials served four subpoenas demanding information on undocumented immigrants arrested in New York City, alleging that the New York Department of Corrections is failing to cooperate with their enforcement efforts.
When asked why New Yorkers were not given advance notice of the change – leaving some with appointments at airports that no longer existed – Wolf said, “There was no reason to continue to enroll individuals, have them go through the paperwork, have them submit their application fee only to have them, you know, cut that off 20, 30 days later.”
Wolf ruled out adding restrictions to Transportation Security Administration Precheck – for the time being. “TSA continues to enjoy access to this data, so from a security perspective, they are not currently impacted,” he said. “But again, as New York continues to add new laws and new barriers to information flow, then we’ll continue to take a look at all of our operations.”
The acting secretary also weighed in on the coronavirus outbreak and the US response.
He told CNN that the vast majority of people the department has been processing are US citizens returning from China and that “for the most part” it has not had to turn people around at airports. Last week, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation suspending the entry of most foreign nationals who have traveled in China in the last two weeks and could pose a risk of spreading the virus.
Homeland Security is responsible for determining who is and isn’t allowed into the US. At least one person has been turned away at the northern border in the wake of the temporary coronavirus ban: a Canadian citizen.