By Gene Johnson / Associated Press
SEATTLE — The Washington state Department of Licensing gave information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about an undocumented immigrant rights activist now facing deportation, records released Friday confirm.
An email obtained by The Associated Press under a public records request shows the state agency sent ICE a copy of the driver’s license and license application for activist Maru Mora-Villalpando on Dec. 7.
Weeks later, ICE ordered her to appear before an immigration judge, even though she said she had not had any contact with law enforcement that might have prompted deportation.
The Seattle Times last month reported that the Department of Licensing had shared information with immigration authorities despite promises by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee that state officials would not enforce immigration laws. Inslee ordered the practice halted immediately and the deputy director of the department resigned. Activists have said the department’s director, Pat Kohler, should also step down.
“For me, this validates what we’ve been saying for years: that DOL was giving information to ICE,” Mora-Villalpando said Friday. “This agency willingly collaborated with ICE without asking any questions.”
The removal proceedings against Mora-Villalpando and other immigrant-rights advocates around the country have drawn criticism from United Nations human rights experts, who on Wednesday called on the U.S. to protect immigrant rights activists from deportation, saying they’re concerned about a pattern of intimidation and retaliation.
“People working legitimately to protect migrants’ rights must not be restricted or silenced,” said the statement from the Geneva-based U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
ICE has repeatedly denied targeting anyone for political reasons.
“Ms. Mora-Villalpando is a Mexican national who violated the terms of her nonimmigrant status in the United States,” agency spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in an email. “All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States.”
Mora-Villalpando, an activist for immigrants held at the privately run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, has been in the U.S. continuously since 1996.
In response to The Seattle Times story, the Department of Licensing said it would no longer release personal information to federal immigration authorities without a court order unless required by law. The department had been handing over personal information to federal authorities 20 to 30 times a month.
Washington is one of about a dozen states that issue licenses without proof of legal U.S. residency. Authorities on the state argue that illegal immigrants are likely to drive anyway, and it’s safer for everyone if they’re enrolled in the licensing system.
Mora-Villalpando said Friday she believed that ICE only knew her address because the Department of Licensing provided it.
“That was the first thing my lawyer said when I told her about the notice to appear: ‘Where did they get your address?’” she said.
The licensing deputy director who resigned was Jeff DeVere. He oversaw compliance with an executive order signed last year by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to prevent state employees from helping federal officials enforce immigration laws.
In a statement to The Seattle Times last month, DeVere said the department provided information to ICE only in response to requests about specific individuals when given a name and a crime that officers are investigating.
Mora-Villalpando insisted she has been the subject of no such criminal investigation, and the department has not turned up any evidence that ICE said it was investigating a crime when it asked about her. Most immigration offenses are civil violations, not criminal ones.
The AP’s public records request sought all communications between ICE and the department pertaining to Mora-Villalpando. The only document provided in response was an email from a DOL “support enforcement tech” named Mandy Hummel to ICE officer Timothy Black.
“Here is your request,” Hummel wrote in attaching the documents.
Mora-Villalpando said Black was the ICE officer who signed the letter ordering her to appear in immigration court.