Ken Dorph of Sag Harbor has become a local casualty of what State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. called “revenge week at the White House.”
A financial consultant in the global market, who travels extensively for his work, Mr. Dorph was ensnared last week in the Trump administration’s suspension of “Trusted Traveler” programs for residents of New York State, which are intended to speed up international travel by making it easier for travelers to check in for flights.
On February 5, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, informed State Department of Motor Vehicles officials that because the state’s recently enacted Green Light Law — which went into effect in December and allows undocumented immigrants to obtain valid driver’s licenses — prohibits the DMV from providing records to the federal department, specifically U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies, New York residents would no longer be eligible to enroll or re-enroll in Trusted Traveler programs. Trusted Traveler programs like Global Entry and NEXUS provide expedited screening for members for international travel.
The move was largely seen as retribution from the Trump administration for New York’s “sanctuary state” policies of supporting undocumented immigrants by writing a provision into the Green Light Law prohibiting the DMV from sharing information with immigration officials, unless ordered to do so by a judge.
State officials swiftly took action this week against the policy, filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday morning.
For Mr. Dorph, the elimination of the check-in program promises to be a hardship.
“When Global Entry happened, I hopped right on it,” Mr. Dorph explained. With travel to Haiti, The Congo, the Middle East and Mexico commonplace experiences, he said he used Global Entry “for quite some time” before it expired last year.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States, who enter through automatic kiosks at select airports.
It should have been easy to renew his membership, but, Mr. Dorph said, “everything is worse” since President Donald Trump took office. Staff cuts have been “enormous,” and an attempt to renew online was foiled by a glitch in the system, he said. Eventually, he was able to reapply, and the only outstanding box to check off his list was a face-to-face interview.
With lines at the enrollment center at John F. Kennedy International Airport untenable, and a five-month wait for an appointment in New York City, Mr. Dorph considered alternate measures. He’d been in Mexico for 10 days and flew into Dallas last Wednesday, February 5.
The airport has a walk-in enrollment center, Mr. Dorph had a two-and-a-half-hour layover and there weren’t many people waiting for assistance.
Walking into the center, Mr. Dorph said, he was confronted with a portrait of the president hanging on the wall — and, next to it, a framed print of Psalm 33:12 from The Bible: “Blessed be the nation whose God is the Lord.”
“Never in my life have I seen anything like it,” Mr. Dorph said. “I found it very offensive. I’ve traveled since 1972, and I’ve never seen anything so blatantly Christian in a federal building. I felt like I was entering a third world country.”
Next, Mr. Dorph was paired with Customs and Border Patrol agent Carlos Lugo, who happened to be Puerto Rican, so the two were able to speak Spanish together. “Clearly, he liked me,” Mr. Dorph said.
Mr. Lugos commented on the amount of traveling Mr. Dorph does and said getting the renewal would just take five minutes.
Five minutes stretched to 10, then 30, then 45. With a flight back home scheduled to depart imminently, Mr. Dorph started to become nervous.
“A young woman offered to give me her slot, because she could see I was freaking out,” he said. “I went in, and I could tell something was wrong. Carlos wouldn’t make eye contact.”
Time went by, and other people were going in, and still Mr. Dorph wasn’t called back inside. Finally, he had to leave to catch his plane.
“I assumed it was some kind of government bureaucracy,” Mr. Dorph said on Thursday, February 6, reflecting on the incident in the enrollment center. “Then, this morning, I read that Trump decided to punish New York. He is a bully, and this is what bullies do. It’s punishing us as a state for allowing people who are here to be able to drive safely. Because we tried to do something practical for our workforce, we are being punished.”
The edict, he said, “must have been delivered as I was sitting there.”
Now, the Sag Harbor resident added, “I paid $300 for this thing I can’t use. He’s punishing people who want to build bridges because he wants to build a wall.”
State lawmakers were quick to react to the ban.
By Friday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Attorney General Letitia James announced their intent to sue the federal government, arguing the Department of Homeland Security violated New York’s sovereign immunity, failed to provide its citizens with equal protection and is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner that denies New Yorkers’ rights and privileges. Ms. James filed the suit on Monday morning.
In a statement Friday morning, the governor pointed out that Ms. James is also defending the Green Light law in court. “We are taking legal action to stop the federal government from inconveniencing New Yorkers to score political points,” Mr. Cuomo said in a release.
“What is the possible justification?” the governor said at a press conference Friday in Albany. “To extort me to give you the records? I never will. I never will.”
Mr. Cuomo said the “real reason” the federal department wanted the records — which are already shared with the FBI — was to use them as a means to deport undocumented immigrants. “The way ICE does deportations has wreaked havoc all over this state,” he said.
Speaking to NPR on Thursday, February 6, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said that New York’s Green Light Law makes it more difficult for federal law enforcement officers to determine whether they’re dealing with dangerous criminals.
The move to disallow New Yorkers from the travel services will impact an estimated 175,000 residents as their memberships expire, and will prevent an additional 80,000 people in the process of applying to Trusted Traveler programs from joining.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also denounced the policy last week. “Once again, the Trump administration is misusing the federal government for political retribution,” she said in a press release. “There is no factual basis for this policy — its true design is to punish New York for embracing diversity and inclusion.”
“Apparently, it is revenge week at the White House,” Mr. Thiele wrote in an email. “The fact that federal immigration officials cannot access identifying information of undocumented immigrants who apply for a standard driver’s license is not a valid basis for denying all New Yorkers the ability to participate in the Global Entry program. It should be noted that under the new Real ID program, in which New York is participating, a standard license cannot be used for federal identification purposes, anyway.
“It is an over-broad and irrational response to a legitimate exercise of state sovereignty, driven solely by politics, not unlike the SALT provisions of the federal tax code, which were designed to punish states like New York that did not support the president,” he continued, referencing new limits on how state and local taxes can be deducted on federal tax returns.
U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, who represents the 1st Congressional District, which covers the East End and part of Brookhaven, did not respond to a request for comment.
However, on Thursday, he supported the move in a post on Twitter. “DHS needs access to certain information in order to do its job,” he Tweeted. “New York needs to restore full access ASAP! It’s not an option for Gov Cuomo & the NYS Legislature to continue its foolish pursuit of new laws that erode public safety.”