Immigration Advocates Say DMV Shared Data With ICE That Led To Arrests. Colorado Lawmakers Don’t Want It To Happen Again

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Colorado state Capitol on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.

Updated on Feb. 11 at 3:45 p.m.

The Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles shared driver's license information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to emails obtained by an immigration advocacy group.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition obtained state emails through a public records request that shows a DMV fraud investigations unit helped ICE identify, surveil and detain individuals without warrants, according to campaign manager Siena Mann.

"It turns out that the immigrant community's fear about sharing information was justified," Mann said at a press conference Thursday.

The subsequent arrests have affected hundreds of Colorado families, said Arash Jahanian of the Meyer Law Office in Denver.

Since the passage of Senate Bill 251, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, hundreds of thousands of people in Colorado have gotten a license or identification card.

"Their information was then weaponized against them and used for the purpose of immigration enforcement, upending their safety, their livelihoods, by this unsanctioned cooperation between DMV administrators and ICE," Mann said.

In response to the revelations, state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would strengthen data privacy laws to prevent further DMV data sharing with law enforcement.

"Trust between the community and our state has been broken," said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Democrat and one of the legislators behind the new bill. "It’s been destroyed by ICE’s wrongdoings. And it’s up to us, in the state of Colorado, within our state government, to restore that trust."

Gonzales said that trust is particularly important when the state government is trying to convince residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19, which has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color.

“I haven’t been able to get a license because I’m afraid," said Mercedes Garcia, a former CRC board member who is undocumented. "How am I going to get a Colorado ID when that’s my worst fear, that the DMV would have my information and share it with ICE? This isn’t right. Our only crime is living here undocumented.”

Though sharing the data is not illegal under current law, guidance issued by Gov. Jared Polis last year does say that information should only be shared for purposes of a criminal investigation or possible crime in progress, not for immigration purposes. However, the emails included in the records request were sent prior to that guidance.

The Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees the DMV, said in an emailed statement that sharing the information fell within its statutory authority. However, it added that the department has made internal policy changes since learning of the emails.

"We restructured the Motor Vehicle Investigations Unit and retrained staff on the appropriate uses of data sharing," a DOR spokesperson said. "Any request solely for the purpose of civil immigration enforcement is immediately denied."

The department's statement also voiced support for codifying the governor's guidance during the next legislative session.

When reached for comment, an ICE spokesperson said the agency "maintains that cooperation with local law enforcement is essential to protecting public safety."