Mora-Villalpando calls for accountability after state agency passes information to ICE

Maru Mora Villalpando, center, speaks to supporters and the press in the Department of Licensing building in downtown Seattle. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh.)

Immigration activist Maru Mora-Villalpando called on the head of the state Department of Licensing to resign, as Mora-Villalpando and supporters revealed emails last week that showed that the Washington State license department provided her private information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a warrant.

After Mora-Villalpando’s information was passed to federal authorities, ICE began deportation proceedings against Mora-Villalpando, a prominent immigration activist, in December.

Mora-Villalpando and supporters gathered at the Department of Licensing’s office in Bellingham last week, saying that there was no accountability for Pat Kohler, Director of the Washington State Department of Licensing.

“We know that the Latino Civic Alliance along with many other organizations from other communities including the Asian community have called for her resignation. We support that. We believe she is ultimately responsible for [this impact] she created … in my family and other families,” Mora-Villalpando told supporters.

Violation of “welcoming” policies

Immigration and Customs Enforcement have stepped up arrests nationwide, and arrests increased in the Seattle area 25 percent in 2017 over the previous year, according to the Pew Research Center, after the election of President Donald Trump.

“Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 that expanded ICE’s enforcement focus to most immigrants in the U.S. without authorization, regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Under President Barack Obama, by contrast, ICE focused its enforcement efforts more narrowly, such as by prioritizing the arrests of those convicted of serious crimes,” the center reported.

Since Trump’s election, state and local officials have instituted or strengthened policies — known as “sanctuary policies” or “welcoming” policies — and promised to protect vulnerable immigrants. These policies include requiring court orders and warrants for private information, and not collecting information about people’s immigration or citizenship status.

The Washington State Department of Licensing has long held a policy of not requiring proof of immigration status or citizenship for a standard driver’s license, making it one of the few states to omit printing that differentiation on the standard driver’s license. (People may choose to pay more for an “enhanced” driver’s license with that information on it.)

However, the Seattle Times reported in January that the Department of Licensing had freely given information to ICE when the federal agency had requested information without a warrant up to 20 to 30 times a month.

The voluntary cooperation between the state Department of Licensing and federal immigration authorities called into question the state’s policies to not assist in the apprehension of undocumented immigrants, except when compelled by law.

After the Times’ story, Gov. Jay Inslee, a frequent critic of Trump’s immigration policies, temporarily halted the Department of Licensing’s practice of sharing information with ICE, and the Deputy Director of the Department of Licensing Jeff De Vere resigned.

But Mora-Villalpando said the problem is more systemic, and responsibility falls on Kohler, the head of the department.

In the documents provided by the state, the department officials said they lack a paper trail that shows ICE requesting her private information, despite a policy that requires the DOL to ask other agencies that make requests about what the request is for.

“It is our policy, when LIU [License Integrity Unit] receives records requests from law enforcement, to ask if they have open investigation, what they specific crime is/was, what the statute was that they were citing as part of their investigation,” DOL public disclosure manager Karen Landis told Mora-Villalpando in an email that was released to the public.

But Landis in the email said the records between the Department of Licensing and law enforcement was considered “transitory” and were not kept.

Mora-Villalpando said Kohler told her over the phone that the department didn’t know how to make all the communication records between the DOL and ICE available for independent investigation.

“This shows again the lack of accountability and the lack of real responsibility on [Kohler’s] behalf,” Mora-Villalpando said.

Related links

Mijente: Washington State Sent Information on Undocumented Activist to Immigration Enforcement Agency

Pew Research Center: ICE arrests went up in 2017, with biggest increases in Florida, northern Texas, Oklahoma