Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Migrant Justice Settles Discrimination Lawsuit with Vermont DMV

January 15, 2020

– Juan Gastelum, NILC, [email protected], 520-313-4921
– Will Lambek, Migrant Justice, [email protected], 802-321-8393
– Beth Nolan, ACLU-VT Communications Director, [email protected], 802-223-6304 x111

Migrant Justice Settles Discrimination Lawsuit with Vermont DMV

Federal case over immigration information-sharing ends

MONTPELIER, VT — Human rights organization Migrant Justice and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles have reached a settlement in a federal antidiscrimination lawsuit. The Vermont-based farmworker group, accompanied by its legal team, announced the settlement Wednesday in a press conference in the state’s capital.

“With this settlement, the state of Vermont makes good on its promise to guarantee access to driver’s licenses without discrimination,” said Migrant Justice leader and suit plaintiff Enrique Balcazar. “Though justice delayed is justice denied for the many whose lives have been ruined by the DMV’s harmful collaboration with [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], we firmly believe that this settlement will put an end to that abuse of power going forward. Vermont’s immigrant community can now safely exercise this hard-fought right.”

The case stems from the Vermont DMV’s practice of information-sharing and collaboration with federal immigration agents, particularly targeting Latino applicants. In 2013, after a campaign spearheaded by Migrant Justice, Vermont passed legislation creating a new class of driver’s license available regardless of immigration status, called “driver’s privilege cards.” Following the law’s implementation, DMV officials began routinely colluding with ICE in the immigration detention and deportation of many DMV customers, prompting one ICE agent to write to a DMV employee, “We’re going to have to make you an honorary ICE officer!”

Despite a 2016 settlement with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, the DMV continued to discriminate against applicants and share information with immigration agents. In 2017, the DMV sent to ICE the driver’s license application of community leader Enrique Balcazar, on which a DMV employee had written “Undocumented,” an act that resulted in Enrique’s subsequent detention and potential deportation. Enrique is one of many human rights leaders in Vermont who have been targeted by ICE due to their activism, a pattern detailed in the lawsuit.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Migrant Justice farmworker leaders signed the settlement agreement to end the organization’s claims against the DMV. The lengthy and detailed settlement formalizes new regulations to restrict communication and information-sharing between the state department and federal immigration agencies. Furthermore, the DMV will be prohibited from retaining copies of birth certificates, passports, and other sensitive information of applicants for driver’s privilege cards. The DMV must retrain all personnel and hire an auditor for a minimum of 18 months to ensure compliance with the agreement.

ACLU of Vermont Attorney Lia Ernst said, “Today’s settlement puts a stop to the DMV’s history of close collaboration with Border Patrol and ICE and ensures greater protections for our immigrant communities. The settlement limits what information the DMV collects and under what circumstances that information can be shared with the federal government. We know, however, that the protections our clients fought for and won are only as strong as their implementation and enforcement. That is why this settlement also includes training, transparency, and accountability measures that ensure that those protections are realized. The ACLU and our allies have long fought for the rights of immigrants in Vermont, and this detailed, far-reaching, and comprehensive settlement helps further disentangle Vermont from the Trump administration’s deportation machine.”

Under today’s settlement, Vermont has adopted strong provisions protecting drivers’ personal information from unlawful disclosure. Across the country, states are increasingly recognizing it is necessary to vigilantly safeguard the information submitted to motor vehicle agencies to ensure the success of driver’s license programs, such as Vermont’s driver privilege card, increase public and road safety, and make a state more welcoming for all who call it home.

“We strive for communities in which all of us, regardless of where we were born, have access to the tools and opportunities necessary to thrive, including the ability to drive lawfully,” said Sarah Kim Pak, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “As a country and in our local communities, we cannot allow the weaponization of essential DMV and other government services, which require the disclosure of personal information and data, to infringe upon fundamental civil rights, to instill fear, or to bring harm to our families and neighbors. With this settlement, Vermont is taking a significant step toward safeguarding the rights, information, and data privacy of all its residents. We are proud to stand alongside our courageous plaintiffs and partners who have fought to secure this important victory for all Vermonters.”

“Today’s settlement is a testament to the power of every individual to demand and achieve accountability of public actors,” said Joel Cohen, partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “We are hopeful that this agreement will serve as a model for other public agencies across the country to evaluate their information-sharing practices and adopt more robust antidiscrimination protections that ensure equal access to public services for all.”

While the portion of the case against the Vermont DMV was settled today, the case continues against ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Plaintiffs sued the federal agencies in November 2018 following an unlawful, multi-year operation to surveil, harass, arrest, and detain Migrant Justice members and leaders. Those activities were undertaken in retaliation for plaintiffs’ First Amendment–protected speech and assembly and in order to destabilize Migrant Justice and its successful organizing of Vermont’s immigrant farmworkers.

Migrant Justice is a Vermont-based human rights organization founded and led by immigrant farmworkers. The organization is a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with members Enrique Balcazar, Zully Palacios, and Victor Diaz, all of whom have been unlawfully targeted by ICE.

Plaintiffs in the suit are represented by the ACLU of Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Immigration Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

For more information, visit

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at


Proposed Immigration Fee Increases Favor the Wealthy, Diminishing Opportunities for Asylum-Seekers and DACA Recipients (The Torch)

Proposed Immigration Fee Increases Favor the Wealthy, Diminishing Opportunities for Asylum-Seekers and DACA Recipients

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
DECEMBER 17, 2019

A new set of fee increases proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the latest tactic by the Trump administration to fundamentally alter our immigration system to favor wealthy people.

Under USCIS’s proposed regulations, people fleeing violence and persecution would have to pay a fee — $50 — simply to apply for asylum. Family members of immigrants with U visas (crime survivors) would be charged $1,515 for their petitions to immigrate, a more than 500 percent increase. Fees to apply for U.S. citizenship would increase 83 percent, to $1,170, and the cost of renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would increase by 55 percent, to $765. These fee increases fly in the face of longstanding policies not to charge for asylum application processing and to keep other immigration applications affordable, sending a clear message: The United States is closed to people who can’t afford to pay.


These fee increases could significantly harm immigrant youth with DACA. DACA doesn’t provide permanent lawful status; it must be renewed every two years. As a result, DACA recipients must continually pay the high renewal fees every two years in order to retain their work authorization and protection from being deported. Until Congress acts to provide permanent protections for this population, immigrant youth will rely on DACA, and we know that DACA allows recipients to thrive. DACA is associated with improved mobility pathways through the access it provides to higher education, better jobs, increased wages, credit, and improved financial positions. These new fees may block some recipients from being able to renew their DACA and cut off this crucial pathway to opportunity for immigrant youth and their families. In fact, past research has shown that the present cost of applying for and getting DACA already presents barriers for immigrant youth and their families.

Many young people who’ve applied for DACA come from low-income backgrounds. Research shows that DACA recipients already struggle to pay the present, lower fees, that not being able to afford the fees has delayed renewals, and that lack of affordability has prevented some people from applying or renewing at all. In addition to having to pay the fees, many DACA recipients retain paid legal assistance to submit renewal applications. We know that participation in DACA is lower in communities that have high unemployment and low levels of economic opportunity. In other words, the people who have the most to gain from DACA may be prevented from accessing its benefits because of these exorbitant fees.

Another troubling aspect of the new rule is its plan to bypass Congress and transfer more than $112 million in USCIS fees to fund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining and deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants every year. This means that the same fees paid by DACA recipients, asylum-seekers, and other petitioners would be used to pay for enforcement against their undocumented family members. A recent survey found that more than two-thirds of DACA recipients think at least once a day about a family member being detained or deported.

Fortunately, this rule is not yet in effect, and there’s still time to try to prevent it from taking effect. As part of the federal rulemaking process, USCIS must take into consideration the voices of concerned individuals who submit public comments through its portal. You can submit a comment through December 30 on the website.

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.

Spending Compromise Hurts Immigrant Communities

December 17, 2019

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375

Spending Compromise Hurts Immigrant Communities

WASHINGTON, DC — Ahead of the vote in the House of Representatives on a governmentwide spending bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“The final U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill will ultimately allow this administration to continue to inflict widespread harm on immigrant communities and flagrantly abuse its power right under Congress’s nose. We applaud the work of our Defund Hate coalition partners and members of Congress who fought to ensure that the bill did not concede to more of President Trump’s wish list.

“Unfortunately, because the bill gives the administration continued permission to transfer funds however it chooses, this makes any attempts to set limits on the number of people in detention and the amount of funds spent on a border wall meaningless. While the bill tries to mitigate some of this harm by including important oversight provisions, it ultimately does shamefully little to outweigh the dangers of Congress writing a blank check to DHS.

“The fact that House Democrats are poised to pass articles of impeachment based partially on this president’s abuse of authority makes it even harder to accept that they would consider a DHS spending bill that they know will invite more abuse of authority.

“Congress is meant to serve as a check on government spending — to ensure that the executive and his cabinet don’t misuse funds on pet projects or an agenda that is out of sync with our values. But this deal weakens our system of separate and coequal branches of government and opens up the country’s bank account so that Trump can abuse taxpayer dollars however he likes in order to fulfill his racist agenda — which includes a wasteful and xenophobic border wall and locking up immigrants in horrific detention conditions that have resulted in record numbers of deaths.

“This deal tacitly signals that Congress has conceded to the wall and to locking up record numbers of immigrants. Anyone committed to ending this administration’s abusive policies and practices must vote no on this bill.”


New Jersey To Join Growing Number of States Extending Access to Driver’s Licenses for All Residents

December 16, 2019

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375

New Jersey to Join Growing Number of States Extending Access to Driver’s Licenses for All Residents

New Jersey is the 15th state to pass legislation extending access to driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of immigration status

TRENTON, NJ — The New Jersey State Legislature voted today to pass critical legislation that expands access to driver’s licenses to all residents who are otherwise eligible, regardless of immigration status. Once the governor signs the legislation into law, it is estimated that 500,000 more New Jersey residents will now be newly eligible to drive with a license.

This major policy victory for immigrant families in New Jersey comes the same week that New York’s Green Light Law goes into effect, expanding access to driver’s licenses in that state regardless of citizenship or immigration status, and just a few months after Oregon passed similar legislation. New Jersey is the 15th state to pass licenses-for-all legislation. With the bill’s passage, most immigrants in the United States will now live in a state that issues licenses to all, regardless of immigration status

“This victory is life-changing for hundreds of thousands of immigrant families throughout the state of New Jersey who will now have the opportunity to live more freely and fully in their communities,” said Jackie Vimo, NILC economic justice policy analyst. “Access to driver’s licenses has long been a core ask from immigrant communities. For everyday working families, a driver’s license is more than just about any other document — it means they are able to drive to work, take their kids to school, visit the doctor, go to church, all without the added fear that a broken tail light might lead to deportation. Today’s win is another milestone in a growing movement to advance policies that allow immigrants to live more fully in their communities throughout New Jersey and across the country.”

“I am in awe of the power of immigrant communities here in New Jersey. We launched the Let’s Drive New Jersey campaign in January 2018, building on the progress and infrastructure we had built during the years before. It has been a long fight to achieve this victory,” said Johanna Calle, director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.  “We couldn’t have done this without the support of our partners and advocates across the country. Every time one state wins, another state gets closer and closer — and that’s really what these fights are about. I’m proud that New Jersey will be joining the other 14 states across the country that have passed this groundbreaking legislation, and I’m excited for what this means for our fight going forward.”

The NILC Winning in the States initiative aims to tangibly improve the lives of immigrants in the communities where they live and to help change the national narrative around immigration. NILC is investing in building power in these communities to accelerate the progress being made. We are creating a structure for advocates across the country to share resources and support each other so that, together, we can ensure that every immigrant living in the United States can feel safe and supported in their community. Learn more:


Appeals Court Ruling Reckless, Advocates Warn

December 10, 2019

Hayley Burgess, NILC, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
Beverly Quintana, AAPCHO, 510-500-5944, [email protected]

Appeals Court Ruling Reckless, Advocates Warn

WASHINGTON, DC — A federal appeals court Monday lifted the second of four court orders blocking implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge regulations, which threaten the health, nutrition, and housing of millions of families. Yesterday’s order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit follows last week’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit lifting another injunction.

One nationwide injunction remains in place, keeping the rule blocked for now. The administration has asked the Second Circuit to lift that order, and it has asked the Seventh Circuit to lift the remaining, more limited injunction in place in that circuit, which would allow the administration to implement the regulations.

“Just this past October, courts across the country blocked this devastating regulation from harming families, and for good reason: it is both legally and morally bankrupt. As a lawyer, and as an immigrant, I am deeply disappointed,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Although this is a difficult day for the legal battle, the public charge regulation remains blocked and the fight to protect immigrant families is far from over. We will continue to fight — both in the courtroom and along with our communities — for dignity for all.”

“The public charge regulations are about telling immigrant families that if you’re not white and you’re not wealthy, you’re not welcome — that means it’s against the law,” Hincapié said. “We will continue to fight Trump’s effort to redefine who is considered worthy of being an American and what we look like as a nation. We won’t stop until we win and all families have the opportunity to live healthy lives and thrive.”

The public charge regulations were finalized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in August, despite receiving a record-breaking 266,000 public comments, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the proposed changes to the regulations. The regulations represent a drastic departure from how the public charge test was previously administered, and they were opposed by experts who predicted that they’d result in large-scale increases in poverty, hunger, and unmet health and housing needs.

Since then, the regulations have already done considerable harm. In addition to the first uptick in America’s child uninsured rate in more than a decade, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported last month that about half of community health centers reported people declining or cancelling coverage because of the public charge regulations. Anecdotal accounts nationwide suggest similar harm with respect to anti-hunger programs. Experts expect the fear resulting from the appellate rulings will deepen the chilling effect.

“By fueling fears, as families all over our country gather together for the holidays, this reckless order puts the food, medical care, and homes of millions at risk,” said Jeffrey Caballero, executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign steering committee. “The regulation itself directly affects only a small number of people, but the Trump administration is counting on fear to amplify the harm. Don’t let Trump win — fight fear with facts and make the best decision to protect your family. Then keep fighting, by making sure you’re counted in the 2020 census and, for the millions of U.S. citizens in immigrant families, by registering to vote and to turning out on election day.”


Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument (The Torch)

Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument

NOVEMBER 12, 2019

Departing the U.S. Supreme Court into a cold fall day, dozens of people whose lives are in the balance — plaintiffs, their mothers, and other Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients — emerged from today’s oral argument with their arms linked and raised. There, at the top of the long bank of marble steps, they paused before a sea of young people below who were waving signs and cheering to welcome them out of the courthouse. Their departure from the courthouse today was a reminder of the organizing, courage, and fight for inclusion that led to the creation of DACA in 2012, as well as of what’s at stake before the nine justices inside the courthouse.

DACA recipients and others who attended oral argument are greeted by friends and supporters on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Formally, today’s argument addressed two legal questions: (1) whether courts can even review the government’s decision to terminate DACA, a policy that had been in place since 2012, and (2) whether the Trump administration engaged in reasoned decision-making when it decided to terminate DACA (in nonlawyer terms, whether the administration properly “showed its work” or, instead, ended DACA arbitrarily).

But in practical terms, the daily lives of close to 700,000 young people — teachers, parents, medical professionals, neighbors — and the health and welfare of the communities they call home are at stake. Individuals like our plaintiffs Eliana Fernández, a community organizer with Make the Road New York who lives on Long Island with her two U.S. citizen children, and Martín Batalla Vidal, who lives in Queens, New York, and is finishing his college degree while working as a certified nursing assistant caring for people with traumatic brain injuries. Eliana and Martín, along with the plaintiffs in the eight other lawsuits currently before the Court, challenged the administration’s termination of DACA in September 2017.

DACA, first announced in 2012, has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people who grew up and went to school in the U.S. — who are integral members of their many communities — to come forward, declare themselves to the government, and in return receive work authorization and a measure of protection from deportation. DACA is consistent with a long history of deferred action programs enacted by administrations of both parties dating back to the Eisenhower era.

The vast majority of Americans support DACA recipients and their place in our national community. A recent poll showed that 83 percent approve of allowing DACA recipients to become U.S. citizens, meaning that Americans agree more about DACA recipients than just about anything else. This was also evident in the huge outpouring of supporting briefs filed with the Court before today’s hearing, including support from national security experts, many large corporations, medical schools, the Catholic Church, law enforcement, and more. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted from the bench today, 66 medical associations, 210 educational institutions, 3 home builders, 109 municipalities and cities,129 religious organizations, 145 businesses — and more — identified countless different reliance interests in DACA.

The lawyers presented detailed legal arguments about reviewability and the Administrative Procedure Act today, but what it comes down to is quite simple: The Court is also being asked to decide what government accountability means in our democracy. Should the government be able to hide behind legal reasons for ending DACA to avoid having to face the political consequences of ending a popular policy — even if the legal reasons it relies on are unexplained and directly conflict with an existing legal opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel? As Justice Sotomayor noted, “[T]his is not about the law; this is about [the] choice to destroy lives.”

Prior to the Trump administration’s termination of DACA, the president assured the public that DACA recipients would be treated with “great heart,” yet after receiving a letter from the attorney general on September 4, 2017, the then–acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abruptly ended the program, writing that she had no choice but to end DACA because it is unlawful.

But through documents obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation that the National Immigration Law Center filed on behalf of Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut, we know that the decision to terminate DACA was actually made at a meeting in the White House on August 24, 2017. There the administration hatched a plan to have the U.S. Department of Justice send DHS a letter “outlining the legal reasons that the DACA program is unlawful,” for DHS to draft a memorandum to terminate DACA, and for the administration to develop a list of legislative items that the president would trade to protect DACA recipients. Even Newt Gingrich warned that such a strategy risked sending a signal that the administration was dehumanizing DACA recipients as a “bargaining chip.” The Trump administration also reportedly considered terminating DACA by having the president issue an executive order, but abandoned that path.

DACA recipients around the country hope that the Supreme Court will see through the administration’s unreasoned decision-making and attempts to shirk responsibility for an unpopular political decision. Their lives and families depend on it. We have strong arguments that court after court have agreed with, U.S. district courts from California to New York to Maryland to DC. But whatever happens when the Court issues its opinion sometime between January and June, we will continue fighting alongside immigrant youth as they courageously lead the immigrant justice movement, fighting for inclusion and recognition and for the future of our country.

Trudy Rebert is a NILC staff attorney.

How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection (The Torch)

How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection

NOVEMBER 1, 2019

In a groundbreaking decision, a U.S. district court in California recently concluded that the immigration databases U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) relies on are too unreliable to form the basis for probable cause to issue “detainers” (administrative arrest warrants) against people whom ICE seeks to detain. The court reviewed multiple immigration and criminal justice databases, finding that “[t]he databases on which ICE relies for information on citizenship and immigration status often contain incomplete data, significant errors, or were not designed to provide information that would be used to determine a person’s removability.”

Operating without accountability, these same databases play a major role not only in ICE enforcement decisions, but also in decisions made by other U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about immigration applications, etc. In addition, to populate its databases DHS increasingly relies on unregulated private companies that sweep up vast quantities of unvetted data. This information is used to surveil immigrants and expand the Trump administration’s deportation machine.

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article, DHS contracted with Thomson Reuters, the Canada-based multinational media company, to use its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) service to target immigrants. The Times says that “CLEAR is powered by personal information: data from credit agencies, cellphone registries, social-media posts, property records, utility accounts, fishing licenses, internet chat rooms and bankruptcy filings, all fused and vetted by algorithm to form an ever-evolving, 360-degree view of U.S. residents’ lives.”

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

License plate–reader data from a company called Vigilant Solutions are also integrated into CLEAR and used for immigration enforcement. License plate readers are cameras that take pictures of passing cars indiscriminately, recording license plates and date and time of capture. Vigilant Solutions also collects data from local law enforcement agencies and private companies. ICE can query the database for current and historical information that documents a license plate’s movements over the past five years.

ICE also has a contract with Thomson Reuters “for subscription data services” that allow “continuous access to commercial database aggregators and real time jail booking databases.” An ICE notice about the contract makes clear that the system must obtain these types of data: “FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; vehicle registration information; property information; pay day loan information; public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records.”

ICE also uses information technology systems and law enforcement management tools created by another for-profit company, Palantir, such as the company’s Investigative Case Management (ICM) and FALCON Search & Analysis (FALCON-SA). According to The Intercept, ICM enables ICE to obtain access to a vast “ecosystem” of data to use in deportation cases.

The vast range of unregulated information available to DHS through these private companies is troubling. Access to Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data is of particular concern, as federal law generally protects tax-filing information from being disclosed. ITINs, which are issued so people can file tax returns and use banking services, are available to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security number. The inclusion of ITIN data in the information harvested by these companies raises questions about how they obtain the data.

Data brokers play a significant role in feeding information into other databases and systems. DHS has access to driver’s license databases through state criminal justice networks, a state-owned nonprofit called Nlets, and specific state networks such as, until recently, Washington State’s Driver and Plate Search (DAPS) database. But it also has access to driver’s license and vehicle information through data brokers, who can buy information from states. As reported by the New York Times Magazine, “[I]n 2017, [Washington’s Department of Licensing] earned $26,371,232 selling driver and vehicle records to 19 principal data brokers, including Experian, LexisNexis and R.L. Polk — a group of companies that had its own relationships with some 34,500 ‘subrecipient’ brokers, including TransUnion, Acxiom and Thomson Reuters” (emphasis added).

So even as states limit access to driver’s license data through their own networks, they must be mindful of the data that brokers are buying from them, which can then be used by DHS for immigration enforcement.

In an early executive order, the Trump administration reversed DHS policy that had applied Privacy Act protections to all persons whose information is in a database or system that includes U.S. citizens and noncitizens with various immigration statuses. Instead, it would protect only citizens and lawful permanent residents. In addition, DHS generally exempts its own records systems from Privacy Act protections, including those systems that rely on information from outside the agency.

The commercial databases that DHS relies on are even more unregulated and shielded from public scrutiny than DHS databases. As private entities, these companies’ practices are not necessarily subject to the Privacy Act, which “governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies,” or by the Freedom of Information Act’s disclosure requirements.

The Trump administration continuously vets and monitors immigrants via these data-gathering and surveillance systems. This practice certainly harms noncitizens and undermines their rights, but it also undermines U.S. citizens’ privacy rights, because the surveillance systems indiscriminately sweep up and store information about all of us. The government and its vendors must be held accountable for this unfettered access to our personal information.

Joan Friedland is a NILC consultant and the primary author of our report “Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: Basic Information for Advocates about Databases and Information-Sharing Among Federal, State, and Local Agencies.” She formerly was a managing attorney at NILC.

How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers (The Torch)

How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers

OCTOBER 31, 2019

This past spring, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent over 500,000 SSA “no-match” letters to employers across the country. And this fall, they’re at it again.

An SSA no-match occurs when the names or Social Security numbers (SSNs) listed on an employer’s W-2 form don’t match SSA’s records. Although these letters are often generated for innocuous reasons — an error in the spelling of an employee’s name, an unreported name change following a marriage or divorce, or an incomplete or missing name or SSN on a W-2 — the Trump administration has reinstituted the practice of sending no-match letters as a backdoor form of immigration enforcement. In fact, SSA resources are being diverted from SSA’s core constituency, elderly and disabled people, to target workers for more immigrant enforcement.

The no-match letter’s original, actual purpose was and still could be valuable — to notify workers that they’re not receiving proper credit for their earnings and to reduce the size of the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The ESF holds the uncredited funds from workers whose personal information filed on their W-2’s doesn’t match the information in SSA’s database. And, importantly, the letter about a particular worker makes no legal statement about the worker’s immigration status. But the Trump administration is counting on the probability that employers who receive the letters will assume that the workers named in them are unauthorized to work in U.S. — and fire them.

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

Everyone agrees that SSA should ensure that workers are properly credited for their earnings. This is vital to help workers retire with dignity and get disability assistance when needed. But no-match letters are an ineffective way to meet that goal. No-match letters were last sent on a large scale to employers in 2006. In a review of the practice, the SSA Office of the Inspector General found that the letters “are not effective” at reducing the size of the Earnings Suspense File. In fact, in 2005 SSA sent 127,652 letters to employers nationwide, but these resulted in only 2,915 wage items being reinstated. That’s right. No-match letters met their stated goal about 2 percent of the time.

Even if SSA wants to send no-match letters, there is a far more effective way to do it. During certain years in the past, SSA sent the letters directly to employees to alert them of a no-match. According to the inspector general, these letters were far more effective and helped resolve about 11 times more suspended wage items than letters sent to employers. But no-match letters sent to workers don’t get immigrants fired or reported, so they don’t further the administration’s agenda.

Perhaps more importantly, no-match letters sent to employers divert the resources of an already beleaguered SSA. SSA is experiencing a staff retirement wave at the same time that aging baby boomers are requiring more services from the agency. When this reality is coupled with a hiring freeze that’s been in place since 2010, SSA already has “significant management challenges” in meeting the projected growth in its workload. And SSA is spending resources to send no-match letters despite a nearly decade-long rise in customer wait times in all 10 SSA regions. More no-match letters could make a bad situation worse.

Across the country, employers are speaking out about the headaches caused by no-match letters. For some employers, no-match letters make hiring and staff retention a problem. Other employers report that the letters cause confusion and a “high level of anxiety.”

But employers are not the only ones reeling from these letters. No-match letters are a direct threat to millions of workers. U.S. citizen workers who’ve changed their names and work-authorized immigrants are particularly at risk. Given that 10 percent of the noncitizen records in SSA’s database have errors, work-authorized immigrants could be required to visit an SSA office to correct a mistake.

Worse, in the current immigration enforcement climate, many employers, mistakenly believing that a worker’s name in a no-match letter shows that the worker isn’t authorized to be employed, will fire the worker — even if the person is work-authorized. In the past, a study found that 34 percent of workers who were fired reported that their employer failed to give them an opportunity to correct their information. In Chicago, advocates and workers report that no-match letters are sowing confusion and fear in workplaces.

Ultimately, this makes workers more vulnerable to abuse. In the past, bad employers have used the letters to retaliate against immigrant workers who were organizing to protect their rights. And in 2019, NILC has fielded many requests for assistance related to mistreatment of workers based on employers’ misuse of no-match letters.

The path forward is clear. SSA no-match letters are part of yet another policy designed to target and harass immigrants and their families. The “collateral” damage? Seniors, workers, and employers. It’s time to let SSA focus on its core mission and leave policies driven by an anti-immigrant agenda behind.

Emily Tulli, a former NILC policy attorney, is a consultant working on special projects for NILC.

NILC and NILC Immigrant Justice Fund Welcome New Board Members

October 28, 2019

Alex Gilliland, [email protected], 650-823-4575

NILC and NILC Immigrant Justice Fund Welcome New Board Members

LOS ANGELES — The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund (IJF) each has added a new member to its board of directors: Angela Banks now serves on NILC’s board, and Ginette Magaña serves on IJF’s board.

“The NILC and IJF boards set the strategic direction of our organizations, and the additions of Angela and Ginette will ensure that we continue to lead with a values-based approach that makes a real difference for immigrant communities and our country,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of NILC and IJF. “Now more than ever, NILC and IJF are needed to fight for the rights of immigrants and ensure that our communities can thrive. Ginette and Angela bring crucial skills and talents to our boards from their leadership in the social and immigrant justice movement, and I’m eager to work with them to help propel our organizations forward.”

“As a legal scholar and researcher, I know that NILC’s litigation work and its effort to shift the narrative around immigrants and immigration is extremely important, and I’m honored to join the board,” Banks said. “NILC serves a critical role defending and advancing the rights of immigrants, especially as those rights come under attack, and I look forward to working with this team to drive change in the immigrant rights movement.”

“I’m thrilled to be joining the board for the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund. Since my time in the Obama White House, I’ve admired the litigation, advocacy, and narrative-change work the organization is engaged in,” Magaña said. “Now more than ever, our country needs a bold vision for the future of immigration, and I look forward to working to advance this goal.”

Angela M. Banks is the Charles J. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. She’s an immigration and citizenship expert whose research focuses on membership and belonging in democratic societies.

Prior to joining the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law faculty, Banks was a professor of law at William & Mary School of Law. She has also served as the Reginald F. Lewis Fellow for Law Teaching at Harvard Law School; as legal advisor to Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal; as an associate at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, DC (now WilmerHale); and as a law clerk for Judge Carlos F. Lucero of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

She received a B.A. in sociology from Spelman College and a master of letters in sociology from the University of Oxford, where she was a Marshall Scholar. Banks is a 2000 graduate of Harvard Law School, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal.

Ginette Magaña is president and founder of Talavera Strategies, a strategic communications and public affairs consulting firm. With more than 15 years of multicultural outreach and experience in electoral campaigns, government, private sector, and nonprofits, Magaña provides high-level strategic advice to engage and mobilize the public, manage issues, and help organizations thrive.

Previously, Magaña served as director of corporate affairs at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, where she oversaw the company’s national award–winning corporate social responsibility initiative program. Prior to that, she led President Obama’s engagement with the nation’s Latino community and worked on immigration-related issues in her role as senior associate director of public engagement at the White House.

From her outreach and communications role in the U.S. House of Representatives to her numerous leadership roles on various campaigns, including President Obama’s successful reelection campaign, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Magaña has worked to engage the Latino community on key policy and advocacy issues.


Home Is Here, and We’re Here to Stay (The Torch)

We are home. Always have been. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

OCTOBER 25, 2019

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three consolidated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. But it will be doing more than that. Its deliberation, on any scale, is a debate over whether I and hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth belong in this country. It is about whether the only country we call home is our home. I’m here to tell you that it is. Home is here.

I’ve been in the United States since I was three. I grew up in Ohio, Georgia, and South Carolina. All these places have been home, yet it wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that I finally felt like this country wanted me — despite the many years I’ve spent loving it. When DACA became available in 2012, it changed my life. DACA was the answered prayer that allowed me to get the college education I so desperately wanted.

Diana Pliego speaks at the Home Is Here campaign launch press conference, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In South Carolina, undocumented students are explicitly barred from attending public colleges and universities. I clearly remember deciding, while sitting in my high school counselor’s office, to tell her the real reason I wasn’t planning to go to college. I broke down in tears because I’d never actually told anyone outside of my family about my immigration status.

My counselor made it her mission to help me get into college. Ultimately, I was accepted into a private school that welcomed me with a full-tuition scholarship. Tuition was just the first hurdle. Room and board were another, but my parents promised to move mountains to clear it. And together they did.

By the end of the summer, we were making just enough money to make my college dreams come true. Then my mom’s company went under. Just three days before move-in day, the rug was pulled out from under me. It felt like my future had collapsed before it even started.

Miraculously, my admissions counselor was able to find just enough additional scholarship money so I could start school. By the end of my first semester, I was finally able to apply for DACA. My parents skipped a car payment to afford the then $465 application fee. With DACA, and my pastor as my cosigner, I was able to get a student loan that came in just in time to make the payment that would allow me to go back to school the following year. With DACA, my brothers and I began working. Thanks to DACA and my family, I graduated from college.

The protection from deportation DACA affords eased some of the constant fear I felt about my safety. It allowed my siblings and me to work and contribute to our household. It allowed us to get jobs and have experiences we otherwise would never have had. It allowed us to give back to the country we call home. It changed our lives and served as the long-awaited recognition that, for us, this is home.

On September 5, 2017, when the Trump administration tried to terminate DACA, another rug was pulled out from under me, and again it felt like my future was being taken from me. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that knows this is my home and is fighting back on every front to ensure immigrant youth are protected. My NILC family has taken Trump to the courts to challenge his unlawful termination of DACA, because my life and future, and those of so many others, hang in the balance.

We know the importance of fighting back, and we know this is part of a larger fight. Trump’s attack on DACA is a clear part of his administration’s broader plan to target nonwhite immigrants in an attempt to basically redefine who we are as a country. And because the administration hasn’t been successful in getting Congress to approve Stephen Miller’s white-supremacist, anti-immigrant policy wish list, it has tried time and again to leverage our livelihoods — and pain — to force Congress into passing its racist agenda.

Trump’s latest tweets couldn’t spell it out any clearer. His administration wants to take away our protections so it can turn around and use us as bargaining chips — again. There is no “heart” involved in these actions. They are a purely racist and cruel way of getting more cruel and racist policies in place to shape the U.S. into the whiter country Trump and Miller long for.

But we won’t let them. We’ll put up the fight of our lives, and we’ll not allow them to define who we are. To every person who has at some time been told to “go home” because of the color of our skin, know this: You are home. Always have been. Always will be. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

Diana Pliego is a NILC policy associate and a DACA recipient.