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ICE and FBI Caught Mining State Drivers' License Photos

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Ted Millar
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Ask any right-winger about laws in Utah, New York, Vermont, and Washington allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses and you are likely to be met with an ear full of Fox News-fueled outrage.

But ask that same right-winger about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities mining without warrants or subpoenasmillions of drivers' license photos for possible facial-recognition matches in an attempt to ensnare undocumented immigrants, and he or she might suddenly start singing another tune.

This is exactly what is occurring, according to Georgetown Law experts who obtained government files through records requests.

Harrison Rudolph, an associate at Georgetown's Center on Privacy and Technology, explained:

"Undocumented folks are coming out of the shadows in these states to get driver's licenses and come into compliance with the law. They are never told when they go into the DMV [department of motor vehicles] to get a license that they also may be submitting their face to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That is a huge bait and switch and it's deeply unfair."

Law enforcement, ICE, and the FBI performed nearly 2,000 database facial-recognition searches of the more than five million DMV state ID photos in just Utah alone, according to a Washington Post analysis.

In Vermont, redacted records show the state approved immigration authorities and other federal agents' searches of the DMV "facial recognition photo repository."

Vermont Public Radio reported earlier this year about a federal lawsuit an immigrants' rights group filed alleging migrant farm workers' names, pictures, and other personal information were sent to ICE after they obtained licenses.

Washington state admitted to the Seattle Times last year the motor-vehicle department frequently provided ICE with photos and license applications.

Interestingly, Washington is one of a few states with sanctuary law s intended to limit local police departments' enforcement of federal immigration laws, the responsibility of ICE.

The push to issue undocumented immigrants drivers' licenses stems from the need for workers to travel safely to work, improving public safety since it reduces the number of unlicensed drivers and arrests.

Jacinta Gonzales, an organizer with the group Mijente, explained ICE's abuse:

"It's putting people in this impossible situation. It's a lose-lose for immigrants."

Sarah St Vincent, a surveillance researcher with Human Rights Watch, explained that when drivers have their license pictures taken, they are not simultaneously consenting to those pictures being searched.

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Ted Millar is a writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Straight Forward Poetry, Better Than Starbucks, the Broke Bohemian, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices (more...)

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