On January 11, we learned that the WA State Department of Licensing (DOL) regularly shares personal information with Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. This years-long practice continues to hurt immigrant communities and sow fear across the state.
Through the DOL’s cooperation, ICE received information such as name, address, photograph, and place of birth from driver license and ID card applications. ICE has used this information to begin deportation proceedings and to detain Washington State residents. Read more about one activist’s story here.
While records from prior to September 2017 are incomplete, the DOL has disclosed that it responded to at least 435 requests for information from immigration authorities between September 2017 and February 2018. Through other avenues, including a database that was recently suspended, more than 700 additional records were also shared with ICE.
The DOL’s actions conflict with the executive order issued by Governor Inslee last February to restrict state agencies from assisting in federal immigration enforcement. The DOL claims to have been following federal law in their cooperation with ICE requests, although federal law states only that agencies may comply with these requests – not that they must do so.
The nature of the information shared by the DOL carries a particularly heavy burden. If ICE can show that someone was born outside the United States, which a driver license or ID card application states, that individual must prove they are lawfully in the United States. This means the DOL has given ICE the single piece of evidence they need to keep immigrants – no matter their status – in detention.
A Path Forward
A coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties organizations are currently pressing the DOL to be fully transparent and to make significant reforms within the agency. Although the DOL reports to have ended its information sharing (except by court order) and removed the birthplace field from its applications, it has yet to take action that would ease fears in immigrant communities. The DOL has created a hotline (360-359-4454) to field questions from concerned residents about whether the DOL shared their information with ICE. However, the DOL states that, “records may be incomplete due to retention cycles, and even if they’re unable to find a specific request, it’s still possible a request was made by ICE.” It’s also unlikely that individuals concerned about DOL’s practices would trust that further interaction with the DOL would be safe.
OneAmerica stands with immigrant communities to demand action by the State of Washington to prevent future information sharing and repair the damage done to those impacted.
These demands include:
- Thorough government-wide analysis of data sharing practices and database access among state agencies and federal immigration authorities. Any evidence of information sharing to immigration authorities should be immediately terminated with clear policies and accountability to prevent future cooperation.
- Proactive notification by the DOL for all individuals whose information it shared with ICE. Concerned residents have no reason to trust the DOL’s newly created hotline nor to be reassured by incomplete information. Furthermore, residents should not shoulder the burden of uncovering whether the DOL handed their information over to ICE.
- State funding for the legal fees and economic hardship resulting from the DOL’s cooperation with ICE. This should be in addition to funds the legislature is now considering for legal defense for eligible immigrants in deportation proceedings.
- State funding for outreach to immigrant and other impacted communities during implementation of the standard driver’s license in compliance with the REAL ID Act.
- State funding for census outreach by community-based organizations to immigrant and other impacted communities. Washington residents now have further reason to fear their government, and without increased outreach, the upcoming census will undoubtedly leave these communities behind.
Thus far, Governor Jay Inslee and the State of Washington have demonstrated a commitment to working with community stakeholders on these concerns. The Office of the Governor recently hired a special assistant to coordinate a review of state agency practices, and the Department of Licensing is rolling out a series of reforms and changes to their internal practices. And the legislature has time to address some of these funding requests in the supplemental budget before the legislative session ends in early March.
The Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network’s Hotline (1-844-724-3737) is available to collect community questions and concerns, as well as to report instances of information sharing. The Department of Licensing has also established a page on their website to provide up-to-date information on changes related to information sharing and disclosure within the agency, including translated content in several languages.