Trump drops battle over Trusted Traveler Programs

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James.
New York State Attorney General, Letitia James.
Associated Press / Richard Drew/File

New York Attorney General, Letitia James is claiming victory for New Yorkers, including Caribbean immigrants, after the Trump administration on Thursday surprisingly reversed its decision to prohibit New Yorkers from enrolling or re-enrolling in the federal government’s Trusted Travel Programs (TTP).

These programs, including the Global Entry program, permit travelers to speed through international airports, using kiosks, after enrolling in them, providing information to authorities.

In February, James filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the two agencies’ acting-leaders  after the agencies announced they would end a number of Trusted Traveler Programs in New York, including Global Entry, SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection), NEXUS, and FAST (Free and Secure Trade).

“The Trump administration backing down and restoring Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs to New Yorkers is a victory for travelers, workers, commerce and our state’s economy,” said James on Thursday.

“This policy was political retribution, plain and simple, which is why we filed our lawsuit to stop the president from targeting and punishing New Yorkers in the first place,” she added.

“We will continue to defend New York’s right to pass its own laws and will fight to protect our state’s residents anytime they are bullied by the president because safety and fairness are not mutually exclusive under the law,” the New York Attorney General continued.

In a court filing on Thursday, US federal government lawyers admitted that DHS officials made inaccurate statements in their attempt to justify prohibiting New Yorkers, including Caribbean immigrants, from the programs.

US federal lawyers said the falsehoods “undermine a central argument” in the Trump administration’s case for denying New Yorkers’ participation in the programs after the state passed legislation allowing undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

New York authorities said that the Trump administration had blatantly singled out the state in its retaliatory action.

Trump administration lawyers admitted on Thursday that other states, some US territories and the District of Columbia were not denied participation in the programs.

“The acting secretary of homeland security has decided to restore New York residents’ access to the Trusted Traveler Programs, effective immediately,” said the government lawyers in their court filing on Thursday.

“Defendants deeply regret the foregoing inaccurate or misleading statements, and apologize to the court and plaintiffs for the need to make these corrections at this late stage in the litigation,” said Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan.

In April, CBP said it had temporarily suspended operations at Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment centers for Caribbean and other immigrants until at least May 1, 2020 due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“CBP is taking this precautionary measure to minimize the exposure of CBP personnel and the public to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” said CBP in a statement. “This temporary closure includes all public access Global Entry enrollment centers, NEXUS enrollment centers, SENTRI enrollment centers and FAST enrollment locations. Global Entry mobile enrollment events are also paused until further notice.”

CBP said conditionally-approved applicants who seek an enrollment center interview will need to reschedule after May 1.

At the time, CBP said conditionally-approved Global Entry applicants would be able to complete the enrollment process when arriving on an international flight at any of the 60 airports that offer this program.

James had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to implement the new policy banning New York State residents, including Caribbean nationals.

In her lawsuit, she argues that the policy change was made as a result of an “arbitrary process that poses a threat to New Yorkers’ safety and the state’s economy.”

The suit also argues that the policy “directly harms hundreds of thousands of individual residents, and interferes with New York’s rights as a sovereign state.”

In early February, the DHS sent a letter to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) stating that the federal government would no longer enroll or re-enroll New York residents, including Caribbean nationals, in a number of the federal government’s Trusted Traveler Programs.

The CBP agency also said that, effective immediately, residents of the State of New York will no longer be eligible to apply for or renew membership in its Trusted Traveler Programs “due to state legislation that restricts CBP’s access to certain criminal history information maintained by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).”

In addition, CBP said the Vehicle Exports program will be affected.

James noted that, last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Green Light bill into law, which allows undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants to apply for driver licenses.

Despite the fact that 13 other states and the District of Columbia had already passed similar laws that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses, James said the Trump administration “singled out and targeted New York State and its residents by informing the New York State DMV that New York residents could no longer enroll or reenroll in a number of Trusted Traveler Programs.”

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke had joined her New York congressional colleague Kathleen Rice in leading a bipartisan letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf questioning the Trump administration’s decision to implement the new policy.

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, and Rice, who represents New York’s 4th Congressional District, noted that Wolf also made the announcement on cable television.

“You failed to provide any notice to our congressional delegation about your decision. Rather, we learned through reporting that a letter was sent to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles alerting them of this policy change, which will immediately impact roughly 50,000 to 80,000 New York State residents with applications pending and another 150,000 to 200,000 New York State residents per year, who are trying to renew membership,”  wrote Clarke and Rice said in their letter.

“This is of great concern and unacceptable to many of our constituents,” they added.

Clarke and Rice also said that New York is the only state in the country that has been singled out for exclusion from “these critical programs.”

CBP said the decision to ban New York State residents, including Caribbean nationals, from the programs, comes as the State of New York implements the “Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act,” which, it claimed, prohibits CBP from accessing information maintained by the New York DMV.

Cuomo said in a statement: “We will not compromise our values nor back down when the federal government continues to unfairly and illegally target New York.”