Vt. DMV settles lawsuit alleging it sent immigrant information to feds

  • Enrique Balcazar of Migrant Justice speaks at a press conference in the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The group announced a settlement of a lawsuit against the Department of Motor Vehicles, accusing the department of sharing information about immigrants with the federal government, leading to deportations. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke) Lisa Rathke

Associated Press
Published: 1/15/2020 9:57:11 PM
Modified: 1/15/2020 9:56:18 PM

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has agreed to change some procedures and undergo monitoring and training for workers to settle a lawsuit accusing it of giving information about immigrant farmworkers to federal authorities, leading to arrests and deportations, an immigrant rights group announced Wednesday.

With help from The American Civil Liberties of Vermont, Migrant Justice had sued the state DMV, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2018. The group had pushed for access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, many of whom work on dairy farms. Vermont passed a law in 2013 allowing immigrants to get driver privilege cards the following year.

Years later, Migrant Justice said it determined that the DMV had been sharing applicants’ information with ICE.

“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,” said Enrique Balcazar, of Migrant Justice, who was arrested and detained for 11 days.

He is free but remains in deportation proceedings, he said.

The settlement agreement, signed by some members of Migrant Justice on Wednesday, creates a net of protections, limiting what information the DMV collects and under what circumstances that information can be shared with the federal government and includes training and accountability for DMV staff, said Lia Ernst, an attorney with ACLU of Vermont.

The DMV will no longer make and store copies of documents proving residency and identity and will destroy on request previous applicants’ documents, she said. The DMV’s compliance will be subject to at least 18 months of monitoring by a third-party auditor, she said.

“These accountability provisions are critical to DMV building up the trust that it squandered in its long-standing collaboration with ICE,” Ernst said. “And we look forward to a new day at the Vermont DMV, a day when all Vermonters can access these critical government services without fear and without discrimination.”

DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli said the department was pleased it could reach an agreement with Migrant Justice.

“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,” she said.

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