MANHATTAN (CN) – A jazz musician planning an international tour across Europe, saxophonist Chris Ward saw several likely drawbacks when he received an email on Tuesday night officially denying his application to the Global Entry program.
"You do not meet the program eligibility requirements because you have listed the state of New York as your current residence,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in automated email. “At this time, CBP is unable to verify certain information connected to your application."
Sent to an untold number of New Yorkers, the boilerplate denial sprang from a Trump administration policy retaliating against the Empire State for passing a “Green Light” law that prevents federal agents from snooping into immigration status without a court order. Authorities estimate the policy change could affect hundreds of thousands of residents applying to the federal program for “trusted travelers,” which helps participants avoid long lines and more invasive security checks for international flights.
For Ward, the denial means planning international travel that affects both his band and their equipment.
“TSA has a tendency to hurt musical instruments,” noted Ward, who recently posted photographs on Twitter to document the agency’s apparent damage of his custom pedalboard case.
More immediately though, the denial also means Ward lost his $100 application fee.
“Give us our 100 bucks back, then, if you're going to just say 'Well, I'm mad because the state isn't doing what I want,’” the 37-year-old musician added.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli has defended the New York ban as about public safety, claiming the state’s sanctuary protections interfere with how federal agents confirm someone’s identification or check for fugitive warrants.
Brianna Harden, a 30-year-old graphic designer, called that a flimsy excuse for a “shakedown.”
“I really feel like this is just extortion in the plainest way,” Harden said in a phone interview. “That it's really completely heinous to use the general population as a pawn for political gain.”
Harden said she researched the issue when news broke about the Trump administration’s policy change, ultimately reaching the conclusion that undocumented immigrants are unlikely to apply for a program that would put their status at risk of exposure.
“It's really just a manipulation of mass population of an entire state to get the governor, it seems, to do something that Trump wants to do,” Harden continued. “And it really is just shameful to invoke fears of public safety as an excuse for doing something like this.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James shares the view that the Trump administration’s justification for banning the state’s participation in the Trusted Traveler Program is a pretext.
“New Yorkers will not be targeted or bullied by an authoritarian thug,” James wrote bluntly in a fiery statement on Feb. 6.
James filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York last week, citing Trump’s latest State of the Union address as evidence of his aim for political retribution.
“In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed,” Trump declared during a rowdy and partisan address, where Republican lawmakers chanted “four more years” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up a copy of his speech.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf followed up Trump’s remarks with a foreboding statement: “DHS will soon announce measures to counter dangerous state and local laws that prohibit coordination with DHS law enforcement officers.”
The Global Entry ban for New York applicants and renewals came two days later.
Three applicants denied entry to the program directed their anger for the decision at the Trump administration, not state authorities.
“I was just aggravated,” Hillary Adler, a 28-year-old marketing director of the personal finance startup MoneyGeek, said in an interview, describing her reaction to her denial. “It just feels like a political chokehold, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any winner here.”
The squeeze would be on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who offered Trump a compromise that would give federal officials access to state driving records for applicants to Global Entry.
The offer would only apply to records of participants in the trusted travelers program, not drivers’ records for state residents generally.
Cuomo described the idea to CNN as a ploy to expose the Trump administration’s pretext when the president rejected the offer, and indeed, Trump turned it down.
“I think that the Trump administration not accepting that or not going for that is absurd,” said Adler, who has traveled to nine countries in the past two years. “It’s one absurdity amongst a million other absurdities.”
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to phone and email requests for information about how many New Yorkers received denial emails and whether their application fees would be refunded.
The agency must respond to the attorney general’s lawsuit on March 4.
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