Time to Weigh in on the New Washington Driver’s License

After years of fending off the US Department of Homeland Security, in the 2017 legislative session Washington State agreed (despite opposition from immigrant and civil liberties groups) to enact legislation that would bring the State into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, which established minimum requirements for state-issued driver’s licenses.

With several allies, OneAmerica succeeded in ensuring that the law signed by the Governor would:

  • Continue to allow any resident, regardless of their immigration status, to receive a driver’s license
  • Minimize the possibility that a license issued to non-citizens could be used as an immigration enforcement tool
  • Protect individuals who may not have a REAL-ID compliant license from discrimination by local law enforcement or others in Washington State

That law encourages but does not obligate US citizens living in Washington State to apply for an enhanced driver’s license (only available to US citizens).  It also retains the standard Washington State driver’s license, which is available to any resident, but authorizes the Department of Licensing to “mark” the license to denote that it cannot be used for federal purposes (e.g., traveling on domestic flights).  The law also affirms some modest protections against discrimination and makes clear that a standard driver’s license cannot be used by state and local law enforcement as a proxy to determine an individual’s immigration status.

This month, the Washington Department of Licensing will be holding a series of public hearings to determine how it will design the Washington State standard driver’s license to be compliant with federal requirements.  Specifically, the license will have to be marked in some manner to indicate that is cannot be used for federal purposes.  The proposed rule would add the phrase “federal limits apply” to the license.  There is also a link on the DOL website to submit comments on the proposed rule.

The agenda for the hearings will include a general REAL ID presentation with time for questions, followed by the formal public hearing on the marking, where DOL will provide options for how they might mark the license.

List of remaining hearings:

  • Mount Vernon: May 22, 6:00 p.m. at Skagit Station Community Room (105 E. Kincaid)
  • Yakima: May 23, 6:00 p.m. at Laborers International Union Hall (507 South 3rd Street)

Related Developments at the Department of Licensing

Earlier this year, media reports discovered that the Department of Licensing had been sharing information regularly with federal immigration enforcement authorities in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order signed in early 2017 directing agencies to not use their resources to enforce federal immigration law.  For a summary, check out this earlier blog post.

On April 30, OneAmerica joined with other community organizations calling on Governor Inslee to fire DOL Director Pat Kohler.  Though DOL has taken several actions to come into compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order, it is clear that significant damage had already been done, despite more than a year of assurances that DOL was not collaborating with ICE.  Earlier this month, the Governor announced the resignation of the DOL Director.

Since February, DOL has taken the following actions in response to community advocacy:

  • Removed the DOL Deputy Director from office.  DOL is now in the process of hiring a replacement.
  • Removed the DOL Director from office. DOL is now in the process of hiring a replacement.
  • Created an Office for Community Outreach and hired a new Director for Community Engagement, Rafael Estevez Jr.
  • Changed the Washington State driver’s license application to longer request an applicants’ place of birth.
  • Ended access to Social Security Numbers through DOL databases for local law enforcement agencies.
  • Terminated contracts with the following federal agencies that granted them access to license plate data, including the following:
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement ERO Fugitive Ops Unit
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement Yakima Field Office
    • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fraud Unit
    • Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility
  • Routed requests for information from federal immigration enforcement agencies through the Governor’s Office.

This is a continuing story, so please return to this blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for additional updates.

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