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Internal memo shows Trump officials planning retaliation against "uncooperative states"

Since President Trump took office, his administration has focused on targeting immigrants by increasing funding for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, passing restrictive travel bans largely targeting Muslims, and more. But as DHS flexes its muscles, some states refuse to be intimidated. Now, documents show that DHS discussed how to retaliate against such states who declined to share individuals' personal information — and it's part of a larger pattern within the administration.

Obtained by BuzzFeed News, the internal documents include a DHS memo written by James McCament, acting head of the DHS policy office, to Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary. The memo outlines how the administration considered using "friendly" states to collect information that the law otherwise wouldn't allow federal immigration authorities like ICE to acquire.

In addition to trying to find ways around limitations put into place by the law, DHS officials discussed how to retaliate against "uncooperative states" that were limiting access to records. Notably, BuzzFeed News reported that the documents discussed how to "punish New York," as BuzzFeed News put it, for its Green Light Law, which went into effect in December 2019 and allows all residents — regardless of citizenship — to apply for a driver's license. The law also prevents state officials from providing driver information to any immigration enforcement agencies without a warrant.

Last week, New York announced it was suing the Trump administration after DHS blocked residents from participating in the Global Entry travel program in apparent retaliation. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted, "We will not compromise our values nor back down when the federal [government] continues to target [New York state]."

DHS maintains that it was not trying to punish New York. Agency spokesperson Heather Swift told BuzzFeed News that Wolf "merely took targeted and limited action to address the security vulnerability New York’s law created."

But New York could be forgiven for its concerns, given Trump's infamous pattern of retaliating against perceived enemies. In May 2017, Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey less than two months after Comey said at a congressional hearing that the FBI was investigating "whether there was any coordination between the [Trump] campaign and Russia's efforts" with regards to the 2016 election. Just last week, Trump dismissed Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during the House impeachment inquiry.

Trump has also run into issues with New York state before. His tax records were subpoenaed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued the Trump Foundation over illegal activity, and the state sued him to enforce the Clean Air Act.

Over the weekend, Trump claimed that Cuomo had cancelled a meeting regarding the state's suspension from the Global Entry program. He went on to add, "Very hard to work with New York — So stupid. All they do is sue me all the time!"

In a statement in response, Cuomo said that his office did request a meeting with Trump, but "there was never a meeting scheduled to be cancelled." Trump, famously a New York native, declared himself a permanent resident of Florida late last year.

Overall, Trump's history of retaliation doesn't read well alongside the documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. As DHS and ICE continue targeting undocumented immigrants, it's likely that the agencies will continue to pressure states to hand over mounds of information. It's important for states to not be swayed by DHS's attempts at punishing them.