State Attorney General Letitia James intends to seek damages and lawyer fees from the federal government after the Department of Homeland Security admitted New Yorkers were unlawfully barred from trusted traveler programs, she said in court filings Tuesday. James is also seeking a judgement that would prevent the DHS from imposing a similar ban on New Yorkers in the future.
The DHS announced in February that New York residents could no longer enroll in the trusted traveler programs which expedite security clearance at borders and airports for approved participants. The move, which came after the state passed a Green Light Law that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers' licenses, was criticized as an attempt to punish New York for protecting data on undocumented immigrants from federal agencies.
The DHS has said its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs the state DMV records for immigration investigations, while Governor Andrew Cuomo said the records would only be used so that "ICE can have a feeding frenzy assaulting undocumented people."
Ultimately, the state allowed ICE to have access to the DMV data of applicants to the trusted traveler programs, who are unlikely to be undocumented immigrants given the detailed background checks they undergo.
Last week the DHS announced it was allowing New Yorkers back into trusted traveler programs, recognizing that more than a dozen other states and municipalities also have laws similar to New York’s Green Light law yet only New York was singled out by the DHS. Federal government officials admitted making “inaccurate” and “misleading” statements when enacting the ban on New Yorkers.
New York state and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the DHS over the ban, and they sent a letter Tuesday to District Judge Jesse Furman in the Southern District of New York announcing their intent to seek attorneys’ fees and costs.
“Plaintiffs believe further inquiry may be warranted to determine when the agency first became aware of the false and misleading representations that were disclosed last week, and what steps were taken and when to cure those misrepresentations,” they wrote. “The parties have agreed to negotiate further to determine whether these issues may be resolved through a settlement that involves attorneys’ fees, costs, and entry of a consent judgment.” A dollar amount for the damages and fees hasn't been determined yet.
The letter also pointed out that the DHS Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf has warned New York the agency will continue to seek information on the state’s undocumented immigrants.
“New York State continues to restrict sharing DMV information with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for other enforcement efforts. The State further recently created new criminal penalties for individuals or entities, including law enforcement officials, who share such information with CBP and ICE. DHS is currently working with the Department of Justice to determine appropriate legal actions to address these problems,” the DHS said in a statement July 23rd.
James is asking the federal courts for judgment in the lawsuit against the DHS to stop them from imposing this ban on New Yorkers in the future.
“Our lawsuit against DHS was always about stopping the president’s irrational, arbitrary, and retaliatory rule, which sought to punish New York for enacting its own state laws,” James said in a statement Wednesday. “We will continue to defend New York’s sovereign rights and will fight to protect our state’s residents anytime the president tries to bully them, because safety and fairness are not mutually exclusive under the law.”