ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a new slap at the Trump administration, said Tuesday a leaked federal memo proves New York is facing "Ukraine-style extortion" over its new law letting undocumented immigrants get licenses and concealing motor vehicle data from border security agencies.
Cuomo's sharp reaction came after Buzzfeed, a news website, reported last week's federal move to suspend New York from the trusted travel program for expedited border crossings was one of eight options floated in the memo written by the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security policy office, James McCament.
The report suggested another option weighed by the Trump administration was to get "friendly" state governments to provide access to driver records of states such as New York so the data could be shared with immigration agencies. The REAL ID program providing enhanced license security requires the various states in the program to share information with each other.
New York's Green Light law, which took effect in mid-December and allows tens of thousands of undocumented people to qualify for driver's licenses, blocks the sharing of the state motor vehicle information with federal law enforcers such as the U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Cuomo and state Attorney General Leticia James announced last week that they have filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the federal government's move to suspend New Yorkers from programs allowing enrolled travelers to have expedited border crossings.
Those programs are highly popular in such places as Niagara County and in the North Country, regions whose residents are in close proximity to travel destinations in Canada.
Several Republicans, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, and state Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, pinned the blame on Cuomo for the federal government's move to remove New York from the trusted traveler programs.
Cuomo, though, insisted the leaked memo is the "smoking gun that proves the Trump administration is once again knowingly abusing power by using government to extort states for political purposes."
The traveler programs impacted include Global Entry, Nexus, SENTRI, designed for those seeking accelerated entry to Canada or Mexico, and FAST, used by many truck drivers heading to Canada.
Other tactics proposed in the McCament memo included scaling back Transportation Safety Administration PreCheck services, filing court subpoenas for drivers' licenses issued to undocumented people and scaling back federal Homeland Security offices in states offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, Buzzfeed reported.
A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, Heather Swift, sought to minimize the significance of the memo, saying the agency's acting secretary, Chad Wolf, did not consider McCament's recommendations when making the decision.
"Instead, the Acting Secretary took targeted and limited action to address the security vulnerability New York's law created," Swift said in a statement to Buzzfeed.
Cuomo called on the Trump administration to release the full memo.
The Cuomo administration has gone to great lengths to keep state driver records from federal immigration agencies.
Last month, CNHI reported state officials blocked 78 police agencies from access to computerized motor vehicle data because they had yet to certify they would refrain from sharing the information with those agencies. Since then, most of those New York police departments signed an agreement with the state, restoring their access to motor vehicle data.
The McCament memo, Buzzfeed said, was dated Jan. 27 and was sent to Wolf.
Wolf, nine days later, informed New York officials of his agency's decision to stop accepting new enrollments and applications for renewals for the government's trusted traveler programs.
Wolf explained in his letter: "Although DHS would prefer to continue our long-standing cooperative relationship with New York on a variety of these critical homeland security initiatives, this Act and the corresponding lack of security cooperation from the New York DMV requires DHS to take immediate action to ensure DHS’s efforts to protect the Homeland are not compromised."
New York had previously allowed undocumented immigrants to qualify for licenses though that practice was terminated by former Gov. George Pataki following the September 2011 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The new law has been controversial, with lawmakers backing it last year after a statewide poll of registered voters by Siena College found that 41 percent agreed with the measure.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org