Vermont settles suit alleging it sent immigrant info to feds

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — 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 farm workers 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 driving 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 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 deportations 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 Enrst, an attorney with ACLU of Vermont.

DMV will no longer make and store copies of documents proving residency and identity and will destroy on request previous applicants’ documents, she said. 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 longstanding 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 was able to work with Migrant Justice and reach an agreement.

“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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