Category Archives: November 2018

Lawsuit Alleges ICE, DHS, and Vermont DMV Targeting Immigrant Leaders in Retaliation for Activism

November 14, 2018

Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, (213) 375-3149, [email protected]
Will Lambek, Migrant Justice, (802) 321-8393, [email protected]
Lia Ernst, ACLU of Vermont (802) 223-6304 x112, [email protected]
Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449, [email protected]
Liz Valsamis, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, (213) 229-7115, [email protected]
Leah Lotto, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, (212) 633-6967, [email protected]

Lawsuit Alleges ICE, DHS, and Vermont DMV Targeting Immigrant Leaders in Retaliation for Activism

Migrant Justice leaders at risk of deportation for engaging in protected First Amendment activity

BURLINGTON, VTToday, Vermont-based Migrant Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ― with the assistance of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ― conducted an unlawful, multi-year operation to surveil, harass, arrest, and detain the organization’s members and leaders. Those activities were undertaken in retaliation for plaintiffs’ First Amendment speech and assembly and in order to destabilize Migrant Justice and its successful organizing of Vermont’s immigrant farm workers.

The lawsuit claims federal immigration authorities targeted Migrant Justice leaders and members since at least 2014, as the organization was engaged in high-profile human rights organizing across Vermont and nationally. As part of a larger pattern of suppressing immigrant activism nationwide, federal immigration authorities infiltrated the meetings and private associations of Migrant Justice through the use of a civilian informant, invasively surveilled its members and mined their social media pages for information, and targeted, arrested, and detained no fewer than nine Migrant Justice members in direct retaliation for their activism.

“We come to the U.S. from countries with histories of political repression, and we thought that here our freedom of speech would be protected as we stood up to defend our rights,” said Enrique Balcazar, a Migrant Justice leader and plaintiff in the case. “It is clear that ICE is trying to silence the voices of immigrants in Vermont.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Vermont DMV assisted ICE and DHS in targeting Migrant Justice leaders after the organization worked to pass Vermont’s Driver Privilege Card (DPC) law in 2013, allowing state residents to obtain driving privileges regardless of immigration status. Documents obtained through public record requests show that when the plaintiffs submitted their DPC applications, the DMV sent their personal information directly to ICE, which compiled dossiers on Migrant Justice leaders, including their social media pages and media appearances. The records show DMV workers shared the plaintiffs’ information with ICE for discriminatory purposes, out of racial and anti-immigrant animus.

“Time and again, we’ve seen that when Vermont officials get entangled in federal immigration matters, civil rights violations are the inevitable result,” said ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Lia Ernst. “The fact is, DMV and other local officials have no legal authority to do immigration enforcement or to discriminate against Vermont residents ― but clearly that message still hasn’t gotten through.”

A 2016 investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission found that the DMV misused the DPC program to engage in a number of discriminatory practices, including falsifying information on applications. Even after the DMV implemented policy reforms, however, officials continued to share extensive information about DPC applicants of color with ICE. DMV officials repeatedly sent what they referred to as “South of the Border” names to ICE for potential investigation, while referring to immigrants in racist and derogatory terms, and scheduled appointments to facilitate immigration arrests.

“Migrant Justice leaders have worked for years to thwart discriminatory policing by local and federal officials,” said Trudy Rebert, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “ICE and willing enablers with a history of anti-Latinx bias at the local DMV have resorted to weaponizing systems essential to community safety to target and suppress our plaintiffs.”

ICE has detained four prominent Migrant Justice leaders who are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. During the course of the arrests, ICE agents harassed and intimidated plaintiffs, referring to one as a “famous person” because of his activism, and named an additional member who would be “next.” In detention, plaintiffs were forbidden from contacting a lawyer or anyone associated with Migrant Justice. Two plaintiffs were detained soon after leaving the Migrant Justice office. As part of its campaign to undermine Migrant Justice, ICE spread false information about the organization, including that staff were collaborating with the agency to locate and detain immigrant community members.

The lawsuit alleges that the arrests and detention are part of an alarming national trend of retaliation against immigrants’ rights activists. Since 2016, ICE has arrested no fewer than twenty high-profile leaders around the country.

“The federal government crackdown on political speech in Vermont is part of a national campaign to silence immigrants who criticize government officials and their policies,” said National Center for Law and Economic Justice Senior Attorney Leah Lotto. “Using their power to physically arrest and detain outspoken leaders is a shocking violation of our Constitution.”

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the defendants from targeting, surveilling, infiltrating, spreading disinformation, arresting, and detaining Migrant Justice members and to prohibit DMV employees from racially motivated sharing of information with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

“The federal government targeted Migrant Justice because of its historic and unrelenting advocacy on behalf of a vulnerable immigrant community,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Angelo Guisado. “In so doing, ICE has weaved its way into the tortured counterpane of U.S. policy used to suffocate grassroots activism and to exert control over communities of color.”

On Wednesday, Migrant Justice members and supporters marched from the organization’s Burlington office to the federal courthouse, hand-delivering the lawsuit while rallying outside. Migrant Justice leaders and attorneys addressed the crowd. In recent years, the federal building has been a frequent site of such rallies; at times, hundreds have filled the streets to denounce immigration arrests and call for the release of detained community members

“The rule of law applies to everyone, regardless of one’s particular political position,” said Joel Cohen, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “An arm of the government should never be used to stifle the rights of speech and assembly or to discriminate against individuals based on their race or perceived immigration status.”

Plaintiffs 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.

The complaint filed today is available at


Voters Across the Country Choose to Correct Course

November 6, 2018

Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

Voters Across the Country Choose to Correct Course

The National Immigration Law Center responds to the 2018 midterm elections

LOS ANGELES — U.S. news outlets project that Democrats will win the majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, following historic levels of voter participation in the 2018 midterm elections.

Votes were still being counted in some precincts, but turnout shattered previous midterm records from coast to coast, and voters made history by sending diverse leaders to state houses and to Washington.

Republicans, who held majorities in both chambers of the U.S. Congress since 2012, lost control of the House despite a late push by President Trump and some candidates to fearmonger and scapegoat immigrants in an effort to increase voter turnout among Trump supporters.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Tonight’s election results, on the whole, were a rejection of hatred and anti-immigrant extremists. This offers a renewed sense of hope that we can get back on the path to a more just and inclusive vision for our country. Tonight, history was made with the first Native American and Muslim women elected to Congress, the first Latinas in Texas elected to Congress, and the first openly gay male governor elected in our nation’s history. After two very destructive years under President Trump, voters turned out in record numbers to demand serious leadership from Washington and in their communities. We have an opportunity now to start to correct course toward achieving justice.

“The message from voters is loud and clear: We want competent, thoughtful leaders who are committed to our values and to finding solutions to our country’s most pressing needs that respect our democratic principles. We will no longer stand for the chaos and divisiveness that have characterized Trump’s presidency. And we will not tolerate elected leaders who cower in the face of relentless attacks on our democracy and pandering to white supremacists.

“Voters turned out not only to reject President Trump’s dangerous leadership, brash policymaking, and cynical, last-ditch efforts to stoke fear and racism, but also to support leaders who stand for inclusivity and who fight for all of us. In states and cities all across the country, communities voted decisively to protect access to health care and to ensure that the economy works for all us.

“From coast to coast, xenophobic candidates like David Brat in Virginia and Kris Kobach in Kansas saw their hate backfire. In Tennessee, a state official who blocked access to education was removed from office in favor of one who supports access to education for all. In Oregon, voters rejected a hateful attempt to strip the state of its anti–racial-profiling law. And across the country, women, people of color, and LGBTQIA leaders are making the halls of power more representative of the nation and communities they serve.

“Leaders with the privilege of power must now deliver on this more inclusive, more unified vision that works for all of us, regardless of where we were born, what we look like, who we love, or how we pray. They must hold the Trump administration accountable for their cruel and corrupt ways and defend our most cherished principles. They can achieve this by serving in their constitutionally mandated role of serving as a check and balance against an executive branch that has shown little regard for our communities or other branches of government. Tonight wasn’t the end of the fight — it was the beginning of a long, collective struggle toward dignity for all.”


Latest Immigration Announcement Smacks of Racism, Desperation, and Cruelty

November 1, 2018

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

Latest Immigration Announcement Smacks of Racism, Desperation, and Cruelty

WASHINGTON — President Trump held a press conference today to address a manufactured “crisis.” While he failed to introduce any concrete policies, Trump uttered several falsehoods about immigrants and politics, among other issues.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement.

“Sensing tough political headwinds, Donald Trump is doing what he does best: hijacking a media cycle to trot out another unlawful, unworkable plan that is designed not to make anyone safer, but to gin up his base before the elections.

“The show we saw today was desperate, cruel, and dripping with racism, and the majority of us are clearly tired of such antics. Voters have shown time and again that they are hungry for real leaders who are willing to provide practical solutions, not photo-op–loving PR stunts that are notable only for their cruelty and unworkability.

“The president’s remarks on the so-called migrant caravan are not dog whistles, because his message continues to be loud and clear: If you are not white, if you are poor, if you pray a certain way, if you were not born in this country, if you are a woman or trans person, then you are not valued.

“These attempts to divide us are beyond shameful and demonstrate that this administration is completely out of touch with the daily needs of people living in this country. We don’t need leaders who manufacture false crises and scapegoat nonwhite communities in an attempt to scare American voters. Our communities need better than this. We all — white, Black, and brown communities — must come together next Tuesday and reject these latest desperate attempts to divide and distract us from rebuilding our nation and ensuring that government works for all of us.”