The state Department of Licensing now says it responded to hundreds of requests for information from immigration-enforcement officials over an eight-month stretch — before a Seattle Times story uncovered the practice.
The state Department of Licensing (DOL) is offering a window into its information-sharing with immigration-enforcement agencies, saying it responded to federal requests for about 900 people in the months before a Seattle Times story revealed the practice.
At that time, the licensing department was routinely handing over information on residents’ driver’s-license applications — including where they were born and whether they used foreign ID — just for the asking. A simple email was all it took.
Since the Times’ Jan. 10 story, DOL started requiring court orders before it would release information related to immigration enforcement.
And the department now sends to the governor’s office requests from federal agencies that investigate undocumented immigrants.
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Of 156 such requests since the Times story, the state denied 30 percent, according to DOL. The department gave no information at all to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
That was a marked departure from previous months. In December, for example, DOL says it provided data to ICE approximately 230 times.
When the state gave out residents’ information after Jan. 10, DOL said, it was because the people were under investigation for crimes that were not solely immigration-related, such as drug or violent offenses.
DOL provided data in a Monday news release announcing officials this month will begin touring the state to explain the department’s new policies — which include no longer asking residents where they were born, hiring a director of community engagement, and creating a hotline (360-359-4454) for people to check whether their data has been shared with ICE.
Some community groups remain dissatisfied, and plan protests at DOL offices around the state Tuesday to call for department director Pat Kohler’s ouster.
“Every record shared by the Department with ICE represents a family that has been or may be ripped apart by federal immigration authorities,” said Rich Stolz, executive director of the immigrant-advocacy group OneAmerica, one of the organizations coordinating the protests.
Nina Martinez, board chair of the Latino Civic Alliance, added that it was not enough that DOL’s deputy director had left the department after the revelations about its information sharing. With Kohler at the helm, Martinez said, it’s hard to trust anything the department said, including the numbers it released.
DOL spokeswoman Krista Carlson was unable to answer detailed questions about the data Monday, saying she needed to find an expert within the department.
She said DOL has been compiling data for months on its interactions with immigration-enforcement agencies. It has not been easy, because records were not kept until January. DOL has tried to retrieve as much as it could. But Carlson said of the data compiled so far, “We know it’s not necessarily a complete history.”
The department now puts a monthly update of information requests, and its responses, on its website.
Carlson declined to comment on the demand for Kohler’s removal, but forwarded a statement from the director. “I remain deeply committed to implementing immediate changes and proper controls to ensure we are safeguarding our customers’ personal information,” Kohler said.