Angered over revelations that a state agency has been regularly sharing personal information with federal immigration-enforcement authorities, Democratic legislators Friday said they will introduce a bill that would make sure that practice stopped.
“There’s definitely rage and outrage that all members of our caucus are feeling,” said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the Senate’s majority whip. “There’s been a breach of trust.”
The reaction followed a Seattle Times story reporting that the Department of Licensing (DOL) has been giving photos and driver’s license applications to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents 20 to 30 times a month.
Applications note where someone is born and what ID they used to get a license. For immigrants living illegally in the U.S., that usually means passports and documents from other countries. Federal agents have used that information to arrest and deport people.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said he did not understand exactly what DOL was doing, and he has told the agency to stop sharing applications and to refer immigration-related requests to his general counsel. “We must and will do better,” he said in a statement Friday.
Saldaña, vice-chair of the Senate transportation committee, said legislation would likely reinforce that directive and issue a statewide moratorium on information sharing with immigration officials.
She said the revelations were particularly surprising because legislators have had a series of detailed conversations with DOL over the years about how the agency handles its data. Saldaña took office last year, but speaking with other lawmakers, she said, “It was really clear there would not be sharing of data for immigration-only cases.”
DOL did tell lawmakers that it gave information, upon request, to law enforcement officers investigating a crime. Legislators were thinking murder and other “heinous, violent crimes,” Saldaña said.
But as DOL Deputy Director Jeff DeVere told The Times, some immigration violations are also crimes. The agency cooperates with officers investigating those crimes, even though the laws DOL cites to justify its practice give no legal mandate.
That flies in the face of Inslee’s executive order last February that he said would keep state employees from participating in immigration enforcement.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, also said Friday he was “troubled” by DOL’s practices. “The governor, the attorney general and legislative leaders have made our positions very clear on this matter,” he said in a statement. “The state should not volunteer information unless absolutely required by law.”
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