People arrive at the ticketing area inside Terminal B at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on July 15. (Frank Franklin II/AP) THERE IS now even less doubt that what appeared to be one of the Trump administration’s most brazen recent acts of political retaliation was just what it seemed.
The New York Times reported the government admitted in court papers filed Thursday that Homeland Security officials had made false statements about their February decision to cut off New Yorkers from the trusted traveler program, which allows prescreened Americans expedited passage through border checks when reentering the United States from abroad.
The Trump administration had justified the cutoff by pointing to New York’s new policy of refusing to disclose driver’s license information to federal immigration authorities absent a court order. The administration claimed that the state’s policy was unusual and that federal officials therefore could not trust the state to cooperate in the background checks needed to screen New Yorkers for the trusted traveler program. In fact, government lawyers admitted Thursday, several other states and D.C. have similar policies, which are designed to shield undocumented immigrants who obtained driver’s licenses rather than encouraging them to drive illegally. But those states’ residents were not denied access to the trusted traveler program, showing that national security was not the underlying issue.
The Department of Homeland Security moved on Thursday to reinstate New Yorkers’ participation in the program. The effects of the cutoff were less profound than they could have been, given the shutdown of international travel because of the covid-19 pandemic, though federal officials had reason to expect that their punishment would be more painful when they imposed it back in February. Department officials indicated the reason they reversed course now was that the state had also changed policy since February, allowing federal agents access to the driver’s license information of those applying for trusted traveler status. Yet state policy shifted back in April, and it is only with Thursday’s revelations about the government’s lack of truthfulness that federal officials are finally backpedaling.
The Trump administration just admitted it lied
The most plausible explanation has always been that President Trump and the immigration hard-liners who staff his administration wanted to punish New York, both for adopting a “sanctuary” state policy after the Trump administration went on a campaign against such policies, and because of the state’s legal action against the president himself. Mr. Trump declared the state must end “unnecessary lawsuits and harassment” when he met with New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) to sort out a compromise on the trusted traveler issue. Now federal officials have admitted the pretext they concocted to justify their actions was not just unlikely, but patently untrue.
Once again, the Trump administration appears to have been caught abusing its powers to further political or personal grudges. It is scary to imagine how much more of the same would occur if the president got another four years with his hands on the levers of government.
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