MONTPELIER — The Department of Motor Vehicles and Migrant Justice have settled a federal lawsuit challenging department employees who were sending information about undocumented workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The settlement was announced at a Wednesday State House news conference. It calls for limits on what information the DMV collects and under what circumstances that information can be shared with the federal government. The settlement includes training and accountability for DMV staff.
In 2013 the state passed a law creating a driver identification card program to provide immigrants living in Vermont illegally with a way to drive. The law went into effect in 2014.
Migrant Justice, an immigrant rights group, disseminated emails Wednesday sent between DMV staff and those at ICE regarding undocumented residents who had applied for driver identification cards. In one of the emails from 2014, an ICE agent told a DMV worker “We’re going to have to make you an honorary ICE officer!” Another email from an ICE officer to DMV staff showed the officer talking about having “a little fun” by picking up nine undocumented residents in Rutland in 2014.
The group had sued the state DMV, ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2018. The suit against the federal government is still open.
Enrique Balcazar, a member of the group and a farm worker, said through an interpreter he is part of a group that is under attack by federal agencies. He said DMV collaborated with ICE in the deportation of members of his community.
“This information was key and essential for the deportation of a mass number of people from our state. We will never know the full impact of this betrayal,” Balcazar said.
He said between 2016 and 2018 more than 40 members of his group were arrested by federal authorities.
Balcazar was arrested by ICE in 2017. Migrant Justice circulated the driver identification card application from Balcazar which shows a DMV worker wrote “undocumented” on the bottom of the application.
He said all of this happened, in part, because of the cooperation from the DMV. He was detained for 11 days and is currently involved in deportation proceedings.
Lia Ernst, a staff attorney at the Vermont chapter of the ACLU who is on the legal team for the lawsuit, said this case is one of hundreds filed across the country to “fight back against the federal government’s cruel and immoral anti-immigrant agenda.”
She said that fight also includes those in state and local government who implement policies and practices that turn the state into “a cog in the federal government’s deportation machine.”
Ernst said the settlement creates a “net of protections.” That includes the DMV no longer making or storing copies of documents presented by those applying for a driver identification card. The department will also destroy upon request documents that had been copied for those who applied for a card in the past.
“So if ICE comes looking for that information, DMV simply won’t have it to share,” she said.
Ernst said the settlement includes provisions for training, transparency and accountability. She said DMV staff will not only undergo new training as part of the settlement, but they will also receive training on fair and impartial policing and implicit bias.
She said the training curricula and the departments revised policies and procedures will be shared with Migrant Justice for review.
The settlement also requires the monitoring and evaluation of the DMV for 18 months by a third party. She said that role will be taken up by Karen Richards, former executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.
“These accountability provisions are critical to the DMV building up the trust that it squandered in its long-standing collaboration with ICE. And we look forward to a new day at the Vermont DMV. A day when all Vermonters can access critical government services without fear and without discrimination,” she said.
Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P-Winooski, said as far as she knows she’s the first and only elected Latino in the state. Gonzalez said she is a proud daughter and granddaughter of farm workers.
“When we cannot trust our government we undermine democracy. When we do not believe that our government will keep us safe, will follow what it says it will do, we are not able to fully engage in the democratic process,” she said.
DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli said in a statement released Wednesday she was happy to work with Migrant Justice to reach the settlement.
“Since 2017, we have been working to improve our policies and procedures and have implemented the State’s new Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. We have been listening to the concerns of Migrant Justice and have been working together to find a path forward. 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.”
ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.
The settlement can be found here: https://migrantjustice.net/DMV