ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he would seek to give federal officials access to New York state driving records for applicants to Global Entry and other federal programs that allow travelers to quickly pass through airports and borders.
The announcement by Cuomo comes days after federal officials banned New York residents from applying to — and re-enrolling in — the programs, known as the Trusted Traveler Program.
Cuomo added that he would meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss the traveler programs and access to the driving records.
Administration officials stressed that the potential change would only apply to applicants to Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, and not result in carte-blanche access to State Department of Motor Vehicle records.
Cuomo also suggested again that the Trump administration was extorting the state, using the prohibition on New York applicants as leverage to find information on undocumented immigrants.
“I think that’s what they really want,” he said in a radio interview on WAMC, an Albany public radio station. “They want access to the undocumented.”
The conflict over the Trusted Traveler Program stems from a 2019 law, often known as the Green Light law, that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and forbade federal officials from accessing state Department of Motor Vehicles records without a court order.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced the ban, citing its inability to access DMV records as the reason; the move could eventually affect tens of thousands of travelers at the state’s airports and Canadian border crossings.
The move caused a furious reaction from Cuomo and a lawsuit challenging the federal action from the state attorney general, Letitia James.
Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said Wednesday that federal law enforcement authorities already had access to criminal records, and were using the Trusted Traveler issue as a feint to play to supporters of the president’s hard-line policy on immigration.
“I believe they just want political noise because they really want to make their argument about immigration,” the governor said.
Cuomo administration officials said the governor would attempt to make the change via new legislation in the state budget or a separate bill, meaning that most likely the change in state policy would not take effect until April at the earliest.
The White House confirmed the meeting between the president and Cuomo, but would not comment on its substance. Previously, federal officials have been forceful in condemning New York’s Green Light law, presenting it as a threat to national security.
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said that the department had not received any formal proposal from New York officials and stressed that they needed “full access to DMV data to fulfill their law enforcement, customs, and trade and travel statutory responsibilities.”
“It remains our goal to get back to a place where New York is once again sharing critical law enforcement data,” Swift said.
Cuomo said that his vision for the new policy would involve evaluating federal requests for information on “a case-by-case basis,” a potentially daunting task for a program with tens of thousands of applicants currently pending.
Cuomo insisted that he was not acquiescing to Trump, saying that he would “never” give federal authorities unfettered access to Department of Motor Vehicles databases, something some other states do.
But if the Global Entry freeze continued, he said, it would have a “dramatic effect on this state.” He added that he had privately floated this plan to federal officials last week.
The shift on Global Entry is just the latest possible alteration to a robust progressive agenda passed last year by Democrats in Albany, who had seized a legislative monopoly after nearly a decade of Republican rule in the State Senate.
But several of those policies, including a reform to the state’s bail laws, have sparked strong blowback and raised the specter of political losses in this year’s elections, particularly in moderate districts in New York City’s suburbs.
In an earlier interview on WRCN, a Long Island station, Cuomo insisted that Trump was playing politics and catering to conservative supporters. State Republicans took issue with that characterization, and blamed Democrats for prioritizing progressive goals over public safety.
Rob Ortt, a Republican state senator from north of Buffalo, commented on Twitter, “Pure politics is passing laws that prioritize illegal aliens over law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officials to score political points with a far-left base.”
Proponents of the Green Light law say that it has reduced the fear of being deported for a driving violation, and provided more economic opportunity for workers previously dependent on public transportation.
“Cuomo must assert that we will not compromise our values,” said Javier Valdés, an executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant rights group, adding: “We draw a bright line between federal immigration enforcement and local law enforcement.”
New York is one of more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The 2019 law repealed a rule dating to 2001, when Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, issued an order requiring applicants to have a Social Security number, citing fears about national security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“This isn’t some novel idea; it was bringing back something that never should have been taken away,” said Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo, a Democrat from the Bronx who sponsored the bill. He noted that his father, an undocumented immigrant, had operated a car in New York.
He added that while the Legislature was always willing to listen to critiques, it did not plan on any major changes to the law.
“We were unequivocal in our intent to protect that data,” he said. “I’m certainly not willing to make changes just because of the whim of a president who wants to make a political point.”