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States Act to Protect Immigration Data from White House

Democratic legislators in California, New York, Massachusetts and Washington have already begun discussions on bills that would prevent state data pertaining to religion from being collected by federal authorities.

by News Staff / February 2, 2017

Following President Donald Trump’s highly controversial executive order on immigration, one thing was immediately clear to state leaders: The administration would need data from the states to create a registry of Muslims and carry out mass deportation.

Washington was the first state to act. Gov. Jay Inslee worked with his staff to find which agencies the federal government could use as data sources, focusing on the Washington Department of Licensing (known as the Department of Motor Vehicles in most states) and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services as the two primary agencies with relevant data.

Nick Brown, who serves as Inslee's general counsel, told The Verge that in the event of genuine public safety concerns, the state would not stop information-sharing with federal law enforcement agencies. It is clear, however, that Washington, along with many other states, will be tightening security on agencies that collect and store personal information and citizenship status.

“The reason why federal authorities want to access information from state and local officials is because their personnel and resources are limited,” Anil Kalhan, a professor of law at Drexel University who also and has conducted detailed studies on surveillance systems, told The Verge. “The logic of doing this is that it essentially creates border checkpoints all over the place. So, when a person is going about day-to-day life and interacting with the police or applying for a driver’s license or for social service benefits — that effectively becomes an immigration screening opportunity.”

The extent to which states and federal immigration authorities participate in direct data-sharing remains murky, according to The Verge — but in public records, glimpses of these programs have emerged. And for immigration advocates, any state database that contains information useful to Trump’s deportation plans is a potential point of vulnerability.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, state DMVs have worked directly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, providing information to the its Enforcement and Removal Office, the primary deportation force in the United States. Additionally, Kalhan says it is likely that law enforcement agencies across the country provide criminal justice data key to the deportation of immigrants who have been incarcerated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, a national clearinghouse for arrest data.

And this could mean that states may not be able to control the sharing of information put in this federal database. A handful of states, including California and Connecticut, do not use these databases that allow federal access.

Other states are attempting to move further away from data collection and sharing. Democratic legislators in California, New York, Massachusetts and Washington have already begun discussions on bills that would prevent state data pertaining to religion from being collected by federal authorities. Meanwhile, a New York senator proposed a bill to limit the city’s universities from compiling data on foreign students, including nationality and immigration status.

“To the millions of undocumented residents pursuing and contributing to the California Dream, the state of California will be your wall of justice should the incoming Administration adopt an inhumane and over-reaching mass-deportation policy,” Sen. Kevin de León, the author of one such bill, declared in a recent statement. “We will not stand by and let the federal government use our state and local agencies to separate mothers from their children.”

This issue may become bipartisan, as Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, openly called out Trump’s order as unjust and proposed a “civil rights and criminal justice” team be formed to take action against what has been condemned as a blatantly unconstitutional executive order.

Massachusetts Sen. Jamie Eldridge summed up the states' collective voice: “State tax dollars and resources should be not going to aid abetting that effort if it’s contrary to our values," he told The Verge, "and we believe it is.”


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