When the federal government suspended processing Global Entry applications and renewals for New Yorkers at the beginning of February, they claimed it was because New York wouldn’t give them access to its drivers license database. They said they needed this information to vet applicants, and when sued they told a court no other state restricts access the way that New York does.
This was obviously untrue at the time. The federal government continued to vet New Yorkers for other programs without this information. And they continued to vet residents of other states for Global Entry, even though those states restricted access in the same way.
It was a political move, leaked to Fox News before the agencies involved even knew about the change, a political move aimed at the President’s base (‘owning the libs’) in retaliation for New York’s providing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The federal government reversed its policy in July when it was forced to admit in court that the claims it made justifying the policy hadn’t been true. The judge demand an explanation for the false filings in court, which potentially expose bureaucrats involved to sanctions and even criminal penalties.
Now the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who assumed her position in June when the attorney general pressured her predecessor to resign, says the government didn’t lie, they were just incompetent – too incompetent to know whether they were getting information they said they needed to properly vet people for trusted traveler programs from other states.
A top federal lawyer put forth a simple argument for why the Trump administration offered a false and misleading legal defense of its decision to bar New Yorkers from applying from federal Trusted Traveler programs.
Senior officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection just didn’t know any better, said Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Audrey Strauss told the court that Customs and Border Protection was ‘simply not aware’ they weren’t getting information they claimed to need from other states. But if the government was approving people as Trusted Travelers, without even knowing they weren’t getting information they needed in order to do so, that’s incompetence.
Indeed it was “ack of knowledge” that the director of trusted traveler programs at the customs agency, Pete R. Acosta, said “New York was the only state to bar the federal government from reviewing driver’s license information while doing background checks on Trusted Traveler applicants.”
Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey along with Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands don’t share information the federal government claims to need to know who should be granted trusted traveler status. Deputy Commissioner Robert E. Perez told the court that without the information program applicants cannot be vetted, even though the agency had done it for residents of these states every single day.
Perez said he made the statement because other unnamed individuals at the agency told him to, and he didn’t know any better.
I primarily relied upon the expertise of CBP officials and offices that work on these issues daily and have knowledge, for example, of the details of Trusted Traveler vetting and information systems and data access. However, I also relied up on my professional knowledge of the New York Green Light Law issue.
There are “several other inaccuracies in earlier court filings,” the government acknowledges, but those have been redacted so we don’t know what other falsehoods were told. The redactions were made ‘on the basis of attorney-client privilege’ which is absurd, the government lawyers are redacting what the government lied about because the government is the client.
In some ways, though, isn’t the claim that government officials were wrong and confused rather than lying worse? The real question here is whether’s it’s a bigger problem if the federal government lies to the courts, or if the people responsible for trusted traveler programs do not know what information they’re receiving, or what information they need, in order to determine eligibility?
(HT: John L.)