ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump exchanged no Valentine's Day gifts Thursday at a White House meeting that was preceded by a presidential tweet mocking the governor's brother, CNN news host Chris Cuomo.
The goal of the session was to resolve a tense dispute over New York's refusal to grant federal law enforcement agencies full access to the state's motor vehicle records. That access was turned off in December as the Green Light law — allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for licenses — took effect.
"Build relationships. But don't bring Fredo," Trump tweeted from his personal Twitter account. "Fredo" is the name of a character who is the young brother of a mob boss in the movie "The Godfather."
Andrew Cuomo has said the use of "Fredo" is a deliberate attempt to disparage Italian-Americans.
The governor was not spared by the presidential barbs. Trump also tweeted: "He must understand National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes."
Cuomo announced last week the state filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration's decision to suspend New York from Trusted Traveler Programs that provide enrollees with expedited passage across the nation's borders. That suspension came after New York stopped allowing several federal law enforcement agencies access to computerized data for driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.
Following the meeting, whose attendees included Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said Cuomo renewed his earlier offer to allow federal agencies to review the motor vehicle data only for people who are applying for enrollment in the rapid travel programs.
Lever said those applicants already go through "an extensive federal background check."
"The president said that this is an issue he will work on and that he would follow up with the governor next week," Lever said.
The DHS action impacts not only those planning to apply for the travel programs but also some 200,000 New Yorkers who have already been enrolled.
Wolf said in a statement the federal government's relationship with New York has been strained due to what he called the state government's "unilateral actions" to curtail access to the motor vehicle data.
"New York state is the only state that restricts CPB (Customs and Border Patrol) access to their data across the board — for law enforcement, customs, trade and travel facilitation purpose." Wolf said. "Despite that, we will continue discussions with the state of New York to find a mutually agreeable solution."
Business groups such as the North Country Chamber of Commerce are hoping the dispute gets resolved quickly so New Yorkers can continue to have access to the federal programs allowing prompt passage at borders and airports.
In Plattsburgh, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said New York's Green Light legislation will increase the danger faced by federal border patrol agents.
Other states that have made licenses available to undocumented immigrants have not blocked federal law enforcers from running the license plates of vehicles they encounter in regions close to the border, Favro noted.
"These guys have to deal with people they don't know, and in many cases they are desperate people," Favro said. "To not give them access to information that could protect them and protect this country is just ludicrous."
The Western New York area has four Canadian border crossings.
Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, said the Green Light Law is misguided.
"This is a border town," he said, adding, without having access to the motor vehicle records, the federal law enforcers will not be able to determine if an arrest warrant is associated with a particular vehicle they encounter because they can't run the plate information.
"Let's protect the lawful residents and the lawful citizens," said Morinello, a former judge. "We should not be focused on protecting those who are here unlawfully."
But Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, praised Cuomo for "standing strong" in the face of strong pressure from Trump.
"This president uses draconian tactics against immigrants, especially Hispanics and Muslims," said Ortiz. "He thinks he is above the law and can control everything. As long as the governor stays strong, it's a win-win for New York and a big loss for the president."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com