NCLEJ Settles Lawsuit Against the Vermont DMV for Collaborating with ICE

NCLEJ has reached a settlement agreement on behalf of its client Migrant Justice in a federal lawsuit against the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. The case stems from the DMV’s practice of information-sharing and collaboration with federal immigration agents, particularly targeting Latino applicants. In 2013, after a campaign spearheaded by Migrant Justice, Vermont passed legislation creating a new class of driver’s license available regardless of immigration status, called “Driver’s Privilege Cards.” Following the law’s implementation, DMV officials began routinely colluding with ICE in the immigration detention and deportation of many DMV customers, prompting one ICE agent to write to a DMV employee, “We’re going to have to make you an honorary ICE officer!”

Despite a 2016 settlement with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, the DMV continued to discriminate against applicants and share information with immigration agents. In 2017, the DMV sent to ICE the driver’s license application of community leader Enrique Balcazar, on which a DMV employee had written “Undocumented,” an act that resulted in Enrique’s subsequent detention and potential deportation. Enrique is one of many human rights leaders in Vermont who have been targeted by ICE due to their activism, a pattern detailed in the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, January 15, 2020, Migrant Justice farmworker leaders signed the settlement agreement to end the organization’s claims against the DMV. The lengthy and detailed settlement formalizes new regulations to restrict communication and information-sharing between the state department and federal immigration agencies. Furthermore, the DMV will be prohibited from retaining copies of birth certificates, passports, and other sensitive information of applicants for Driver’s Privilege Cards. The DMV must retrain all personnel and hire an auditor for a minimum of 18 months to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Under the settlement, Vermont has adopted strong provisions protecting drivers’ personal information from unlawful disclosure. Across the country, states are increasingly recognizing it is necessary to vigilantly safeguard the information submitted to motor vehicle agencies to ensure the success of drivers’ license programs, such as Vermont’s Driver Privilege Card, increase public and road safety, and make a state more welcoming for all who call it home.

While the portion of the case against the Vermont DMV was settled, the case continues against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Plaintiffs sued the federal agencies in November, 2018 following an unlawful, multi-year operation to surveil, harass, arrest, and detain Migrant Justice members and leaders. Those activities were undertaken in retaliation for plaintiffs’ First Amendment speech and assembly and in order to destabilize Migrant Justice and its successful organizing of Vermont’s immigrant farmworkers.

NCLEJ brought this suit with our co-counsel, the ACLU Foundation of Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Immigration Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP.

For more information, contact Senior Attorney Leah Lotto.

Read the full settlement here.