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Info Demanded on DHS & ICE Record-Sharing

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Immigration attorneys sued the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for records on their information-sharing, claiming it could hinder a California law allowing undocumented people to get driver's licenses.

The National Immigration Law Center sued the two government agencies on Thursday in Federal Court.

It claims the DHS and ICE have not responded to its April 24 Freedom of Information Act request for "documents and records related to information sharing between these government agencies and state driver's license agencies for immigration enforcement purposes."

The law center sought documents from Jan. 1, 2009 onward related to the process by which ICE can gain driver's license information from state databases and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System; agreements between ICE and Homeland Security to share information about driver's license applicants; and reports from governmental and nongovernmental driver's license agencies to Homeland Security or ICE concerning driver's license applicants suspected to be in the country illegally.

The NILC says it needs to see the documents so it can assuage immigrants' fears that the government will use the information to deport them.

It claims that the government has not only rejected its request for expedited processing, it "failed to conduct a diligent search for or, in the case of DHS, to respond substantively to the request for records."

The NILC claims that the records "are urgently needed to better inform the public (or dispel unfounded concerns) about the direct and collateral impacts of federal immigration enforcement initiatives that could deter immigrants from taking advantage of state programs to become qualified and licensed drivers, thereby potentially frustrating the public safety aims of those state initiatives."

California passed Assembly Bill 60 in 2013, enabling undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses starting Jan. 2, 2015. Nine other states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have similar laws, according to the complaint.

"In order to serve public safety interests, these laws help ensure that drivers on the road are properly trained and have passed a driving test. These laws also increase drivers' access to car insurance (as driver's licenses are typically required to obtain insurance), and they reduce the costs of covering accidents involving uninsured motorists, potentially reducing insurance rates for everyone," the complaint states.

Fatal crashes involving unlicensed drivers increased by 17 percent nationally, and by 49 percent in California, from 1998 to 2007. In a state that has roughly 1.4 million undocumented residents without licenses, the law is "expected to have a particularly positive status," the lawsuit states.

But this is frustrated by widespread fear that ICE will use DMV information to deport people, which may discourage them from applying, the group claims.

Emails unearthed by an FOIA request from the ACLU detailing a plan from the ICE's Atlanta office to use DMV records to meet deportation quotas reinforce such fears, the complaint states.

Though ICE denies using DMV data to deport people, the lack of public knowledge exacerbates immigrants' fears and mistrust, according to the complaint.

"Indeed, because of the lack of information, some advocacy groups have had to warn potential applicants that they should assume that ICE may use driver's license data for immigration enforcement purposes," the lawsuit states.

The NILC claims that ICE sent it a letter on June 11 claiming that it could find no records that matched the request. The NILC appealed, and ICE sent another letter on Aug. 6, conceding that there could be records in places the agency did not initially look, the complaint states.

The NILC seeks declaratory judgment that DHS and ICE violated the Freedom of Information Act, and wants the agencies ordered to conduct a search with expedited processing and give it the requested documents immediately

It is represented by Andrew Grossman and Courtney Turco with Paul Hastings LLP.

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