Amid stepped-up federal deportation efforts, many unauthorized immigrants worry that state and local programs that are designed to help them could instead be used by federal agents to identify and expel them. About a dozen states have created special driver’s license programs for people who can’t prove U.S. citizenship, and more than a dozen cities have started identification programs so that unauthorized immigrants and others can complete tasks such as opening bank accounts, enrolling their children in school and receiving government services, Stateline reports. Under the programs, state and local government agencies have retained perhaps millions of documents with personal information about the applicants, such as their names, addresses and foreign identification numbers. Although there has always been a risk that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could request the documents, immigration advocates say the information could be more vulnerable now, in a political atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to immigrants.
To ease the fear, lawmakers in states such as Hawaii, Massachusetts and Vermont have pushed various measures to prevent state and local resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law. In Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a law requiring local governments to get approval from the governor before assisting federal enforcement. In Washington state, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee issued an order saying state agencies will not collect information on immigrants beyond what is necessary to perform agency duties and will not use resources to apprehend people for being in the country illegally, except as required by law. In New York City, which has the nation’s largest municipal ID program in the country, serving more than 1 million residents, a judge ruled this month that the city can destroy application documents. Two Republican legislators plan to file an appeal.