DMV Settles With Migrant Justice Over Its Role In ICE Crackdown | Off Message

DMV Settles With Migrant Justice Over Its Role In ICE Crackdown


Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique Balcazar, left, and Will Lambek - COLIN FLANDERS
  • Colin Flanders
  • Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique Balcazar, left, and Will Lambek
Updated at 3:59 p.m.

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles committed to policy changes and antidiscrimination training to settle legal claims that its employees aided immigration authorities' crackdown on undocumented activists.

Migrant Justice, an advocacy group for undocumented farmworkers that sued the DMV and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in November 2018, announced the settlement Wednesday at the Vermont Statehouse.

"This agreement will create a set of protections that will be strong enough to guarantee the safety and security for all," Migrant Justice spokesperson Enrique Balcazar said through an interpreter.

Balcazar was among the 40-plus people who the group says were arrested by federal immigration authorities during what Migrant Justice has alleged was an ICE campaign to hinder its activism and deport its leaders.
ICE used the state DMV to aid its enforcement efforts, documents obtained by Migrant Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont showed.

DMV employees willingly — and sometimes eagerly — handed over information about Vermont residents who applied for state driver's privilege cards, a program created in 2014 to allow undocumented residents to drive legally.  Migrant Justice alleged that the process targeted nonwhite applicants.
In Balcazar's case, records showed that a DMV employee sent ICE his license plate information, copies of personal documents and his driver's privilege card application with the word "UNDOCUMENTED" handwritten in the margin, according to the lawsuit. 
Migrant Justice had lobbied for creation of the driver's privilege cards in 2014, making its use as an immigration enforcement tool against the organization's members a cruel twist.

"This information was key and essential in the deportation of a mass number of people from our state. We will never know the full impact of this betrayal," Balcazar said.

The DMV on Wednesday agreed to a create a "net of protections" to stop information-sharing with ICE going forward, said ACLU staff attorney Lia Ernst, whose organization sued on behalf of Migrant Justice. Reforms include policy changes around the collection and retention of applicants' personal documents and agency-wide training on topics related to nondiscrimination.

"We have been listening to the concerns of Migrant Justice and have been working together to find a path forward," DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli said in a statement. "We believe these efforts have been important to help ensure that regardless of immigration status, individuals are not afraid to gain access to driver’s privilege cards. DMV will continue to listen to concerns to ensure fair and equitable customer service for all DMV patrons."

The agency also pledged not to provide information unrelated to immigration status for the purposes of immigration enforcement and agreed to outside monitoring for compliance with the settlement terms, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said in a press release. His office negotiated the agreement on behalf of the DMV, the release stated.
“We are all Vermonters — regardless of immigration status — and we should all be able to seek a driver’s privilege card without fear that the federal government will unjustifiably obtain access to our personal information,” Donovan wrote.

Migrant Justice's claims against the DMV were just one piece of the federal litigation. Its civil claims against ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will proceed.

Reporter Colin Flanders contributed to this story.

Correction, January 15, 2020: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a detail of the settlement as described in Donovan's press release.

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