Trusted Traveler Programs Ban ‘Nothing to Do With Illegal Aliens Receiving Driver’s Licenses:’ DHS

February 10, 2020 Updated: February 11, 2020
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The decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to bar New York residents from enrolling in Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs was not retaliation for the recently passed law that lets illegal immigrants apply for driver’s licenses without providing a Social Security number, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said on Feb. 9.

“This has nothing to do with illegal aliens receiving driver’s licenses. NY is the ONLY state to shut off CBP [Customs and Border Protection] access to DMV records used for law enforcement purposes in our homeland security mission,” Wolf wrote on Twitter on Feb. 9. “Without access, CBP cannot vet Trusted Traveler applicants. It’s that simple.”

His comments came after House Democrats on Feb. 7 described his move as “senseless” and “retaliatory” and demanded that Wolf hand over documents related to the decision.

“We write today to express our opposition to the decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discriminate against residents of the State of New York by barring them from enrolling or re-enrolling in four U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs,” they wrote in a letter (pdf). “This senseless, retaliatory decision should be immediately reversed.”

“I made clear to the governor yesterday that suspending Trusted Traveler Programs for NY had nothing to do with driver’s licenses and everything to do with the breakdown in information sharing,” Wolf wrote on Twitter on Feb. 7.

Wolf announced on Feb. 5 that New Yorkers wouldn’t be allowed to enroll or re-enroll in the Trusted Traveler Programs run by CBP, including Global Entry.

He said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that New York residents can’t join or stay in the programs “because we no longer have access to make sure that they meet those program requirements, so we need to do our job.”

Global Entry enables faster clearance when people go through customs when arriving in the United States; NEXUS enables quicker border crossing for enrollees traveling between the United States and Canada; the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, facilitates faster clearance for travelers when they enter the United States; and the Free and Secure Trade program, or FAST, helps commercial shipments crossing the U.S. border from Canada or Mexico get quicker clearance.

DHS sent a letter to New York state officials informing them of the change. Wolf wrote that the state’s new law that lets illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses precludes CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which are both part of DHS, from “accessing and validating pertinent information contained in New York DMV records that is operationally critical in DHS’s efforts to keep our nation secure.”

The state Department of Motor Vehicle records have been used by immigration officers to verify or corroborate suspects’ date of birth, height, and other personally identifiable information. The records are also used to help identify targets, witnesses, and victims.

CBP, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement on Feb. 6 that the ban was “effective immediately.”

“Nothing is more important than the safety of the United States and our citizens, and the New York Green Light law makes us less safe, and shields criminals,” CBP acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said in a statement.

“We recognize that many New York residents and businesses will be negatively affected by this change, but we cannot compromise the safety and security of our homeland. When states take negative measures that hinder our ability to protect our great country, we must respond.”

In response to the plans, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Feb. 7 that the state will be suing the Trump administration, adding that the decision will “negatively impact travelers, workers, commerce, and our economy.”

“This is political retribution, plain and simple, and while the president may want to punish New York for standing up to his xenophobic policies, we will not back down,” James said. “We plan to take legal action and sue the Trump administration for its unfair targeting of New York State residents.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.