Trump holds New Yorkers hostage

Many of us here in the North Country cross the Canadian border almost daily to do business or to visit relatives in Quebec, and we have joined our country’s Trusted Traveler Program so that we may cross back and forth into Canada without undue and unpredictable delay. We have gone to some trouble and expense to acquire Nexus cards, and we rely on these cards to go about our day-to-day business.

On Feb. 6, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Mark Morgan, an appointee of Mr. Trump, announced that residents of New York will no longer be eligible for the U.S. Trusted Traveler Program. No applications from New Yorkers for new Nexus cards, or even for renewals of cards held for many years, will be accepted. Acting Commissioner Morgan says that because of New York state’s Green Light law, the CBP “cannot properly complete security checks for Trusted Traveler Program applications and renewals submitted by New York residents.”

This is nonsense. Those of us who have joined the Trusted Traveler Program have supplied the Department of Homeland Security (and CBP) with proof of citizenship, proof of residency, proof of employment going back five years, and travel history. We have been fingerprinted and photographed by DHS, and had our irises scanned. Each one of us has been personally interviewed and approved by an officer of CBP. CBP uses our Nexus cards to keep track of us every time we cross the Canadian border.

Trusted Travelers have given their full cooperation to DHS, and Acting Commissioner Morgan’s assertion that New York’s Green Light law prevents CBP or DHS from completing security checks on Trusted Travelers is clearly and utterly mendacious.

The truth is that Mr. Trump’s White House is using New York’s Trusted Travelers as hostages. Mr. Trump wants the New York Department of Motor Vehicles to give him a list of people who have obtained driver’s licenses under New York’s Green Light law so that he can advance his immigration agenda. In order to pressure the New York Department of Motor Vehicles into handing over this list, Mr. Trump is attacking New York’s Trusted Travelers — people who have nothing to do with either the Green Lighters or the DMV, and who are fully cooperative with DHS. New York’s Trusted Travelers are wholly innocent bystanders in Mr. Trump’s dispute with the New York DMV, and yet it is the Trusted Travelers who are being punished.

Each day, a few more of New York’s Trusted Travelers — thoroughly vetted U.S. citizens who have come to depend on the Nexus cards they have held for five, 10 or 15 years — have their lives upended as their Nexus cards expire and cannot be renewed. Mr. Trump has essentially rounded up thousands of law-abiding New Yorkers and is now picking them off one by one, waiting for the New York State DMV to accede to his demands. This is thuggery, not politics, and Congress and the judiciary must recognize that fact, rein in Mr. Trump and put an end to this dangerous, unprincipled and immoral behavior.

Unfortunately, Rep. Stefanik has taken the position that it’s all Gov. Cuomo’s fault. As long as the governor keeps the DMV from handing over the coveted list, she says, it’s perfectly OK for Mr. Trump to beat up on innocent New Yorkers — her constituents — because Mr. Cuomo made him do it. Ms. Stefanik, in her somewhat childish defense of Mr. Trump’s mob-boss tactics, seems to have lost sight of which party is throwing the actual punches. She is willing to stand by a president who punishes people — again, her constituents — who have committed no offense whatsoever.

It comes down, then, to the voters, who must be made aware of what’s going on. This hostage situation should be getting more press coverage than it is, even though it affects only some tens of thousands of New York residents. People in other districts and other states need to know what the White House is doing, and they should be asking themselves what will happen if Mr. Trump’s hostage-taking tactics should succeed. What other groups might suddenly find themselves used as bargaining chips in disputes between the White House and their own government agencies? What other citizens might suddenly be denied access to federal programs because of where they happen to live?

Gregory Quenell lives in Paul Smiths.