DMV lawsuit settled: State to shield immigration status from feds

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 11:53 AM EST
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The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles is promising not to report undocumented immigrants to the feds under a court settlement announced on Wednesday. Our Calvin Cutler has details on the agreement.

The settlement creates a net of legal protections for people applying for driver's privilege cards, no matter their immigration status.

Migrant Justice, a human rights organization, sued the Vermont DMV after state workers gave personal information on undocumented immigrants to federal law enforcement.

Enrique Balcazar says it happened to him after he applied for a driver's privilege card, a type of license available to noncitizens.

"ICE was able to achieve this persecution, in part, because of the collaboration of the Department of Motor Vehicles," Balcazar said through a translator.

Migrant Justice says this led to the arrest and deportation of "many" undocumented workers, though they could not document how many people were affected.

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling the settlement of the lawsuit a big win for accountability and transparency.

"These accountability provisions are critical to the DMV building up the trust that it squandered with its longstanding collaboration with ICE," said Lia Ernst, the attorney for the ACLU of Vermont.

As part of the settlement, the DMV is no longer allowed to make copies of personal documents from people applying for driver's privilege cards, such as passports. They will also have to destroy past documents of some people who applied for driver's privilege cards.

The state will also have to spend $100,000 to train DMV staff in implicit bias and to follow the state's fair policing rules, which prohibit sharing of immigration status with the feds.

DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli issued a statement to WCAX News that said: "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."

At the same time as all of this, Migrant Justice is still in the middle of a separate lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. That lawsuit says the feds specifically targeted and arrested Migrant Justice members and leaders.

WCAX News reached out to ICE but we had not yet heard back when this story was published.