FOIA Lawsuit: Driver’s License Databases

December 17, 2014

Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center, [email protected]

National Immigration Center Sues for Information about Immigration Enforcement Use of Driver’s License Database

Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeks to shed light on how the government uses license databases when searching for immigrants

LOS ANGELES — After months of requests and appeals, the National Immigration Law Center, represented by Paul Hastings, LLP, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to learn more about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials’ use of state driver’s license databases for immigration enforcement purposes. This lawsuit comes weeks before California is set to join eight other states and the District of Columbia in allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for state licenses.

“Californians understand that it’s in our best interest to ensure that all our drivers are tested, trained, licensed, and insured,” said Melissa Keaney, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “Immigrants who come forward shouldn’t have to worry about how the information they provide might be used by immigration authorities. Unfortunately, instead of reassuring advocates and immigrants, ICE has been remarkably tightlipped about how they access database information. We filed this lawsuit to find out why.”

Advocates in other states have reported raids and other immigration enforcement activities that resulted from immigration authorities locating immigrants via driver’s license databases. ICE officials admitted to using the databases in Maryland but provided no information about internal protocols for ensuring that databases are not used simply to search for immigrants who may lack status.

“Maryland joined other states in recognizing the importance of allowing all residents to apply for licenses,” said George Escobar, director of Health and Human Services at CASA de Maryland, an immigrants’ rights organization. “Unfortunately, the immigration raids that resulted from database searches have sent a chill through the immigrant community and may have prevented people from coming forward to apply for licenses. Immigration authorities should come clean and explain how they use these databases, and why.”

The National Immigration Law Center also filed a motion for preliminary injunction to process its request as quickly as possible, a request that advocates believe will allow groups to better understand when and how ICE uses databases in its efforts to detain and deport immigrants. Groups hope to use this information to ensure that all those eligible for licenses will be able to come forward and apply for them. With an estimated 1.4 million people currently eligible for California’s new license, driver’s license databases could expand precipitously early next year.

“We look forward to an expeditious and successful resolution to this matter, which will shed light on the use of driver’s license databases by federal agencies and, ultimately, improve public safety,” said Andrew Grossman, a lawyer with global law firm Paul Hastings who is advising the National Immigration Law Center.

Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center is the only advocacy organization in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their families. NILC advances its mission through policy analysis and litigation, along with education and advocacy. Over the past three decades, NILC has won landmark legal decisions protecting fundamental rights, thwarted policies that would have devastated the lives of low-income immigrants and their family members, and advanced major policies that reinforce our nation’s values of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.

The complaint is available at

To learn more about immigrant access to driver’s licenses, visit


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