Despite promises to the contrary by Utah lawmakers, federal officials may be using a Utah database of immigrant Driver Privilege Cards to round up undocumented workers.
“If it is true that ICE [Immigration & Customs Enforcement] is using those records, it’s troubling,” said state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. “That information was not intended to be used by federal officials.”
The 2005 legislation that created the Driving Privilege Cards was a public safety measure to ensure undocumented immigrants got driver training and insurance, Escamilla said.
The database includes information on both regular Utah Driver License holders, as well as on individuals who applied for Driver Privilege Cards, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety. There is no way to search the database specifically for undocumented immigrants, according to the statement.
However, Escamilla explained, that if ICE officials were to plug in a name and search the database, it would provide a current address of a Driver Privilege Card holder. Locating undocumented immigrants is often challenging for ICE.
Tuesday, Escamilla said she is certain immigration officials are doing that.
“If they have their names, they can get their addresses,” she said.
For operational security, ICE doesn’t release information on its investigative techniques, said spokesman Carl Rusnok.
Last week, immigration attorney Aaron Tarin sent an email to other Utah immigration attorneys warning that ICE could be using the Utah database to expel undocumented aliens. He noted that his firm has had more than a dozen clients contacted by federal officials shortly after renewing their driving cards — something that is required annually.
“It’s a good idea to offer people a chance to come out of the shadows and come into compliance with the law,” he said of the Driver Privilege Cards. “But we didn’t anticipate the era we are living in now.”
The Trump administration is aggressively seeking out undocumented immigrants, whether or not they have criminal histories, Tarin said. Under the Obama and Bush administrations, undocumented immigrants were only targeted if they committed felonies.
“There is a new sheriff in town who has blatantly said everybody is up for grabs,” Tarinsaid. “ICE can do hard work to track bad guys or they can sit back and get DPC holders. It’s an easy way to meet their quota.”
Beyond that, Tarin said the new policy leaves immigration lawyers in an ethical quandary: should they advise clients to drive unlawfully to avoid deportation, or should they encourage them to acquire Driver Privilege Cards, knowing that it could have dire consequences?
Advocate Michael Clara said that in 2005 many believed there would be risk for those who applied for Driver Privilege Cards. “A lot of us were still OK with the risk,” he said.
“But now I get calls about twice a week from people who have Driver Privilege Cards who have been contacted by ICE. They are giving them 30 days to leave the country and they are taking it [rather than going through deportation proceedings].”