EVERETT — Protesters chanted and paced in front of the Department of Licensing office Tuesday, criticizing the state agency for giving Washington residents’ information to immigration officers.
Two dozen people demonstrated in front of the Everett licensing office off Evergreen Way. They called for agency Director Pat Kohler’s resignation or removal and further efforts to protect privacy.
“We want the Department of Licensing working with communities to build up the trust,” said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Northwest Refugee & Immigration Services in Everett.
Tucked away from traffic, there were no honks from passersby. But the protesters made plenty of noise on their own.
They chanted “Pat Kohler must go” and “Governor act now.” They waved signs that read “DOL stop collaborating with ICE,” “DOL violated public trust,” and “DOL stop breaking up families.” They handed out fliers about the day’s protests in Bellingham, Everett, Lacey, Moses Lake, Seattle, Vancouver, White Center and Yakima. On the fliers, 19 groups were listed as taking part in the protests.
Washington allows undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license. Earlier this year, the state agency was criticized after a news report exposed how the DOL gave up information of a prominent immigrant rights activist. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the agency to stop providing personal information to ICE on Jan. 15.
Deputy Director Jeff DeVere resigned soon after the news report. He oversaw compliance with Inslee’s executive order preventing state employees from helping federal enforcement of immigration laws.
Since then, Kohler made several changes, including a requirement that immigration-related requests only be processed if accompanied by a court order. Another is that standard driver’s licenses and identification cards will not require applicants to state a place of birth.
Kohler and a new director of community engagement plan to travel the state and discuss civil rights issues this month, starting with stops in Lake Chelan, Wenatchee, Granger and Yakima next week.
Those changes and outreach efforts are too little, too late for the demonstrators.
“There’s no way we can do the dialogue with the DOL with Pat Kohler in power,” Dinh-Kuno said.
Nationally, the unauthorized immigrant population tripled between 1990 and 2017 from 3.5 million to 12.2 million. Washington mirrors that trend.
Debate about the removal of “bad hombres” has centered on the idea that only undocumented immigrants with violent crime convictions should be targeted for deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data shows 74 percent of immigrants arrested by the agency have criminal convictions. But the Brookings Institute found that only 7 percent of all deported immigrants were convicted of an aggravated felony over a 14-year period from October 2002 to January 2016.
Dinh-Kuno said she is disheartened by the stories of families she works with: children packing two bags to school, one with paper, pencils and textbooks, one with extra clothing in case they have to flee immigration agents; people avoiding their homes until late at night out of fear of being deported.
According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. civilian workforce includes 8 million unauthorized immigrants. That accounts for 5 percent of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work.
“These people are contributing,” Dinh-Kuno said, noting that undocumented immigrants work and pay taxes.