The governor must send a strong signal that Washington respects the human rights of immigrants and refugees. The only way to rebuild public trust is to remove DOL Director Pat Kohler.
THE state’s Department of Licensing needs new leadership. Gov. Jay Inslee signed Executive Order 17-01 in February 2017 to restrict state agencies from using state resources to help federal agencies seeking information relating to immigration enforcement.
The order addressed a real risk to Washington state residents. Many Washingtonians were proud of our state for taking this step. The goal was to protect the dignity and human rights of all state residents, and to keep people safe.
Then followed The Seattle Times reporting earlier this year
by Nina Shapiro, which exposed the fact that the Department of Licensing was sharing driver’s license data with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) — a year after the executive order was issued.
Under the current director’s leadership, DOL violated Executive Order 17-01 and the trust of thousands of Washingtonians who depend on this critical state agency for licenses and state identification cards. This breach conservatively placed several hundred Washington residents at risk of ICE identification, detention and deportation from May to December 2017, alone. The number of people affected is likely in the thousands over the course of the year, including family members.
Although process improvements going forward have been made since news broke of DOL’s failure to comply with the executive order, the damage cannot be undone. The process improvements do not address the fundamental underpinnings of what went wrong at DOL. The recent safeguards instituted, which include a requirement for court orders to obtain information, do not change DOL’s culture or values.
Agency directors set values and are responsible for work culture, expectations and priorities. The DOL director should have mandated a comprehensive plan the day the executive order was signed, and had robust monitoring processes in place to ensure that DOL met the executive order’s requirements.
President Donald Trump and his administration have painted immigrants and refugees with a broad, misleading and discriminatory brush as dangerous criminals and terrorists, and directed ICE to greatly increase the number of people deported. More families are being ripped apart, mothers and fathers separated from their children, and more hardworking, taxpaying immigrants contributing to our communities and economies are being deported.
People are afraid to renew their driver’s licenses or complete driver’s license certification and vehicle registration because they fear DOL will share their personal addresses with ICE. Individuals who did so in 2017, when DOL was cooperating with ICE, are now living in even deeper fear.
DOL has shown us that the executive order is not enough to keep Washington state residents safe. This is a leadership failure. Confidence in the DOL has eroded. DOL’s violation of the executive order is especially egregious in light of the privacy concerns that surrounded passage of Washington’s Real ID law last year. DOL knew the importance of protecting and not disclosing licensee information. DOL knew it should not unnecessarily share information with ICE, which could and did use personal information to identify and apprehend individuals.
Along with thousands of Washingtonians who have been put at risk by DOL’s routine sharing of personal data with federal agencies up until The Times exposed it, we are calling on Gov. Inslee to act now and send a strong signal that he means what he says when he calls Washington state a welcoming state that respects the human rights of immigrants and refugees.
The only way to rebuild public trust is to overhaul DOL’s leadership and remove its director, Pat Kohler. A new DOL director must be committed to protecting the privacy of families, workers and employers in our communities, and must have the experience and skills to rebuild trust in an agency upon which all Washington state residents depend.