What the Trusted Traveler Suspension Means for Travel Advisors, Travelers

airport security x-ray machine
Photo by tarasov_vl via Newscred

In the 24-plus hours since President Trump’s State of the Union address, the landscape has changed for many New York travelers and the advisors who work with them.

About 800,000 travelers will be losing their access to Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler programs (TTP) over the next five years, including 50,000 whose pending applications are being immediately denied and 175,00 that are up for renewal and will be cut off by the end of the year. 

As they do, all those folks will be moving to the already-crowded Immigration lines at JFK Airport instead of speeding through Global Entry, where the immigration process takes just minutes, travel advisors noted.

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With longer queues imminent, this might be a good time to suggest that travelers from other states enroll in Global Entry, some advisors noted. Global Entry comes with a $100 fee, but some co-branded credit cards reimburse it and some frequent-flyer programs offer discounts. Travelers headed outside the city also might consider alternative airports like Newark or Philadelphia.

Travel advisors also are advising U.S. travelers and visitors from Canada to download the Mobile Passport Control app, which also speeds entry by doing some of the immigration clearance in advance.

(There’s also the private CLEAR program, which takes members to the front of the line as they clear customs to exit the country, but does not help when they return.) 

Until things get sorted out, leisure travelers also might consider using their vacation time to see more of the good old U.S.A. rather than heading for foreign shores. 

For now, travel advisors are keeping a close eye on developments. 

Cruise Planners franchise owner Charles Russell “fully expects this to happen in other states under similar circumstances, when state law conflicts with federal regulations. As we learned, security threats are very real, and DHS is vested in maintaining the homeland’s safety and security. I will continue to follow the developing story so I’m armed with the best available information to keep my clients updated.”

New York-based Toni Day, owner of Adventures with Toni Tours, is being more proactive. “It’s important for agents to make their voices heard, and to encourage their clients to contact their Congressional and Senate representatives to advise them of the hardship this puts on them, especially if they are frequent international travelers. DHS should be able to do a work-around for the background check without going through DMV.”

Day is asking clients and friends to “please reach out to your local Congressional representatives to put pressure on DHS to reinstate Global Entry in New York. This will have a direct impact on law-abiding U.S. citizens, many who are international business travelers in addition to leisure travelers who travel abroad. You think the immigration lines at JFK are long now? This will only add to the mess. Even if you don’t currently have Global Entry, this can increase your wait time due to extra U.S. citizens on the regular line.”

Laura Avital already wrote to U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, whom she met at the ASTA Legislative Day last week, and got back a reply from her staff member saying, “The Congresswoman is already well aware of the Global Entry ban and is working on finding out more details about the ban and for how long DHS plans to keep it in effect. We were not given any advance notice even though we’re on the Homeland Security Committee, but we are working quickly to resolve the issue.”

The Background

It all started on Wednesday night, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will ban New Yorkers from many TTPs (though not TSA Precheck). That’s in response to New York’s “Green Light Law,” which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and promises to not share their information with immigration agencies.

Those already in the program, which grants easier immigration process for travelers returning to the United States from abroad for a period of five years, will not be affected, but will not be allowed to reapply.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said on Thursday that the Administration could follow suit with other states if they try to limit access to DMV records, mentioning Washington State in particular. “They should know that their citizens are going to lose the convenience of entering these Trusted Traveler programs, just as New York did,” he said.

The U.S. Travel Association responded immediately, saying "travel should not be politicized. Trusted traveler programs enhance our national security because they provide greater certainty regarding a person's identity, citizenship, and criminal background. Suspending enrollment in Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs only undermines travel security and efficiency. We are in contact with the Department of Homeland Security to convey this message."

The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) followed, calling on its New York members to contact their elected officials, and on the Trump Administration to reverse its decision. 

“We strongly oppose this measure on behalf of the 8,700 New Yorkers who work at travel agencies in the state, their clients and partners. The Administration could have used a scalpel here, but chose a sledgehammer instead. Penalizing every New Yorker enrolled or who plans to enroll in valuable trusted traveler programs like Global Entry over a dispute between the federal and state government is wrong. Now more than ever, the government should be looking for ways to facilitate travel, not hinder it.

“Further, this ‘fix’ is nonsensical. Those in the Global Entry program have already produced a valid passport (proving citizenship in the U.S. or other participating countries), have submitted fingerprints, and passed a background check in order to qualify. Denying them the ability to renew because the New York DMV isn’t sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security regarding undocumented immigrants makes no sense.

“We call on the Administration to reverse this decision and call on our New York members to contact their elected officials. We will be giving our members the tools to do so in the coming days.”

New York reiterated its status as a haven for immigrants; State Senator Luis Sepulveda, who sponsored the Green Light law, said, “We can’t allow the President to come in and try to bully us,” and has no intention of revisiting the law.

Twitter and Facebook erupted with boos, but many travel professionals stood by the DHS for insisting on access to “relevant information that only New York DMV maintains, including some aspects of an individual’s criminal history.”

Politics or Protection?

While New Yorkers and Democrats tended to view the decision as retribution for New York’s thumbing its nose at President Trump with the Green Light Law, others stood by their President and his focus on border security. 

On CNN New York University Professor Ruth Ben-Giat, for example, noted that the ruling will not affect “the very rich, who travel in private jets and often have special VIP concierge services, like screening and entry protocols, if they travel commercially. Those people are Trump's real constituency, and they won't care about this change. For the rest of us, there is the partial comfort of DHS's Mobile Passport application, or the private program Clear. Yet the suspension of Global Entry is not really about travel but about the erosion of principled government and the triumph of a politics of revenge.”

Outside of New York and on the Republican side of the aisle, advisors were more prone to sympathize with the ban’s stated goal of national security. In its letter to New York outlining the change, ICE had noted that DMV records are used to vet TTP applicants for criminal backgrounds and narcotic arrests, so they need not be carefully screened at the airport.

At Boundless Travel in Texas, Nancy Leos stood by the President. “The safety of all travelers comes first, and if the program cannot vet residents of any state properly, thoroughly and at the same level as all travelers from other states, then there needs to be a work-around where they can access the information they need,” she said.

This article originally appeared on www.travelagentcentral.com.

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