Despite having denounced President Donald Trump's immigration enforcement policies and promised to protect immigrants, state officials ignored an earlier warning that the Department of Licensing was providing information to federal immigration authorities, according to leaders from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The Seattle Times on Thursday reported that the Department of Licensing regularly shares information—photos and driver's license applications—with ICE, and that governor Jay Inslee's office "didn't understand the extent of the cooperation," according to a spokesperson. Officials didn't ask the Department of Licensing to stop the practice until The Seattle Times began asking questions this week.
Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said attorneys at the organization suspected the Department of Licensing was sharing information with ICE and had brought it up with state officials earlier. (He declined to say which officials.) But they didn't know the extent of it, how or which information DOL was providing.
"We did think that there was something going on with DOL data," Baron told PubliCola. "We had suspected that. And frankly, we had raised that concern with state officials."
Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Seattle office, said they told high-level state officials that it had been happening in February 2017.
"We had given them a heads up that this was occurring, and then I think it just kind of got lost in the shuffle with everything else that was happening," Adams told PubliCola. “We are hoping we can have constructive conversations that can help resolve some of these issues.”
The Seattle Times also spoke to several immigration attorneys whose clients been found by ICE through DOL information. Though it's not a new practice to share DOL information with federal authorities, The Seattle Times reported, lawyers are now seeing proof of it through ICE arrest reports.
Adams and Baron both said they believe officials misunderstood how ICE uses that information—that it's not solely used to find immigrants who commit crimes unrelated to entering the country illegally. Once that information is handed to ICE, Baron said, "they can use it for whatever they want."
Part of the challenge, Baron added, has been the state government bureaucracy and the substantial amounts of data being collected and shared. It's then difficult to track where that information is going and what information can be kept private. But state agencies like the Department of Licensing are not required to share their data with federal authorities like ICE without a warrant.
“I am not going to elaborate further on those discussions," Baron wrote later by email. "My focus now is ... on how we can fix the problems we've identified."