Washington state halts voluntary sharing of driver’s license information with federal immigration authorities

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) announced earlier this week that it will no longer voluntarily share residents’ personal information with federal immigration authorities.

The move comes after a January 11 Seattle Times report revealing that the agency had been handing over driver’s license application details and photos to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 20-30 times per month. In some cases, this personal data was used to arrest and deport otherwise undocumented residents.

Washington is one of 12 states (plus Washington DC) that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Applicants can present proof of Washington residence along with a foreign passport or other international ID credential as part of the license application process. Until this week, the application included both the type of identity document used to apply as well as information on the applicant’s place of birth. When shared with federal immigration authorities, this application data has been used to prove that an individual was foreign-born.

The extent of personal identity information sharing caught Governor Jay Inslee’s office by surprise, according to a spokesperson.

“The recent revelations about our state Department of Licensing’s failure to safeguard certain information from federal immigration officials has shaken and angered many communities. It has angered me,” Governor Inslee said in a January 15 statement. “I issued an executive order nearly one year ago saying we would do all we could to protect Washington’s immigrants and refugees from blatantly discriminatory enforcement and deportation efforts. DOL fell short in meeting those expectations, and for that I apologize.”

DOL deputy director Jeff DeVere, the official responsible for enacting that executive order, has resigned in the wake of the Times report.

Moving forward, the DOL will only release personal information with a signed court order, or where such sharing is legally mandated (currently this type of cooperation is voluntary under federal law). It will also stop collecting information that “isn’t mandated and could be misused,” including place of birth and type of identity document used as part of an application.

Amid an intensifying nationwide debate about immigration enforcement, Washington’s move to limit this kind of data sharing raises what are likely to be enduring questions about identity data disclosures between federal and state agencies.