MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge put a spotlight on the Department of Homeland Security with a pair of Wednesday rulings, the first of which suggests a possible coverup on why the agency shut New Yorkers out of Global Entry.
“The meager size of the administrative record raises the real possibility that defendants withheld documents that would be critical to plaintiffs’ case,” U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote, refusing to let the Department of Homeland Security withhold a log that specifies how many and what type of documents it is attempting to keep under wraps.
Hours later, Furman issued another ruling that says Homeland Security must identify the officials involved.
New York has been on the hunt for such records since filing suit earlier this year after the government announced that New Yorkers could no longer apply to its Trusted Traveler Program, which lets participants otherwise breeze through lines for security screenings at airports.
Joined in the case by a class of Empire State residents, New York Attorney General Letitia James has called the move an arbitrary attempt at revenge over immigration policy disagreements.
“New Yorkers will not be targeted or bullied by an authoritarian thug,” James wrote in a fiery statement on Feb. 6, the day after Trump’s impeachment trial ended.
Days later, Governor Andrew Cuomo invoked imagery from Trump’s Ukraine scandal to describe the Global Entry slight: “It’s an abuse of power,” he railed at a Feb. 10 press conference, after news of the lawsuit broke. “It’s extortion.”
Even as the governor tries to ease relations with Trump to obtain federal assistance for vital coronavirus aid, those tensions still bubble under the surface as Homeland Security tries to hide records related to the case.
Moments after Furman’s first ruling Wednesday, Attorney General James filed a 2-page letter stating that the agency wants to redact the names of the decision-makers.
“The public has a clear interest in knowing the identity of individuals involved in the decision to exclude New Yorkers from the Trusted Traveler Programs,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Colangelo wrote in the letter. “Names are not traditionally considered private.”
The prosecutor emphasized that the identities that Homeland Security wants to withhold are not low-level figures.
“To the contrary, all but one of the individuals whose names are redacted appear to be attorneys in the Office of Chief Counsel, not field operations staff; the one non-attorney appears to have been previously identified in a publicly-available Freedom of Information Act production available on defendants’ website,” the letter continues.
It took little time for Judge Furman to rule in favor of New York’s attorney general, issuing a second order for the government to supply more information by May 1.
If history is any judge, the Trump administration may have a tough fight ahead in Furman’s court. Furman presided over the lawsuits opposing the Department of Commerce’s since-abandoned proposal to add an citizenship question to the 2020 census, a query that critics saw as a backhanded attempt to reduce federal funding and political representation in states where these immigrants live.
Blasting the Commerce Department’s conduct as a violation of the law and the public trust, Furman blocked the citizenship question a little more than a year ago in a 277-page ruling that largely withstood the scrutiny of the conservative Supreme Court.