Courts & Corrections

Senate panel presses DMV on ICE contacts

DMV Commissioner Rob Ide, Col. Jake Elovirta, and ACLU-VT staff attorney Jay Diaz (from left) testify in Senate Government Operations. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

A court settlement last fall required the Department of Motor Vehicles to stop passing along information about foreign nationals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But DMV “continued to collude” with ICE last year.

At a hearing in Senate Government Operations on Tuesday, top Department of Motor Vehicles officials took questions from lawmakers about interactions between department enforcement staff and federal immigration authorities.

The state passed a law in 2013 to establish a new driving credential that does not require proof of legal status in the United States. Designed to accommodate migrant farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented, the driver’s privilege cards require only proof that the applicant is a Vermont resident.

But when immigrants sought the cards, DMV enforcement routinely contacted ICE as part of investigations.

In 2014, the Vermont Human Rights Commission sued DMV on behalf of a Jordanian national.

Abdel Rababah went to obtain a privilege card at the Dummerston DMV office in 2014. Subsequently, a DMV investigator alerted ICE officials that Rababah did not have legal status in the United States. Federal immigration then detained Rababah and initiated deportation hearings.

The Human Rights Commission case was settled last year. The settlement included guarantees that the DMV would alter practices and policies related to issuing driver privilege cards.

Emails obtained by VTDigger in October 2016 showed that contact between DMV investigators and ICE officials was frequent in the early implementation of the program.

More records, published last week in Seven Days, showed that communications between DMV and ICE employees continued through the end of 2016, after the settlement in Rababah’s case.

The emails show the relationship between DMV investigators and ICE officials was “informal and collegial,” American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont attorney Jay Diaz told lawmakers Tuesday.

Communications from 2016 show that DMV investigators “continued to collude” with ICE, even sharing applications with federal authorities, he said.

“That is not what you all envisioned when you passed the driver’s privilege card law,” Diaz said. “It was to protect people in this situation not allow them to be sent to ICE.”

DMV Commissioner Robert Ide acknowledged that the department has not completely implemented the terms of the Human Rights Commission settlement.

“It was an ambitious list of tasks,” he said. “I’m not saying that we are all done yet, but we certainly are on a course that charts us to that end point.”

The department is still training staff in the protocols, as required under the settlement.

Ide spoke to the panel along with Col. Jake Elovirta, director of enforcement at the DMV. Asked by one committee member about whether officers involved in communications with ICE had been disciplined, Ide responded that they prefer not to speak publicly about personnel matters.

“I would tell you that one of the officers was in the office last week, and he and Col. Elovirta had a closed door session that I’m sure was productive,” Ide said.

Lawmakers asked what penalties officers would face for improper communications with ICE.

Ide said communication with ICE would not be immediate grounds for dismissal, but supervisors would discuss the situation with the individual and would work with them to remedy it.

“It’s not fun to have to explain this type of behavior,” Ide said. “But behavior is what it is, and sometimes you have to.”

Sen. Chris Pearson, P-Chittenden, was a House member at the time the law was passed and recalled an “extensive” floor debate about sharing information of driver’s privilege card holders with federal authorities, he said.

Legislators were “trying to give these folks some freedom to move around Vermont where they live and work, and not dupe them into getting themselves in trouble with the feds,” Pearson said.

“What I’d like to hear is that the DMV is not taking any liberties with sharing people’s personal information because they’ve applied … for a driver privilege card and sharing it with the feds, except in the very narrowest of ways,” Pearson said.

“It is very narrow,” Elovirta responded.

Elovirta said that there have been a very small number of cases where the DMV has contacted ICE in the course of an investigation. DMV personnel would not reach out to federal authorities unless an application is flagged as suspicious and referred for investigation for potential fraud, the officials said.

Diaz and DMV officials acknowledged that fraud is a concern.

Newspaper ads ran in foreign language newspapers in metropolitan areas advertising opportunities for people without documentation to get a license in Vermont for a fee.

The DMV has conducted investigations into hundreds of potentially fraudulent applications, according to officials. In some cases the department has had several privilege card applications come from the same suspicious address, for instance.

“There is a lot of money to be made from fraud,” Elovirta said.

However, Diaz argued that investigators can seek to verify applications without contacting federal authorities.

“There’s no need to communicate with ICE regarding any applicant for a driver’s privilege card,” he said.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Dave Bellini

    The legislature passes a law, instructing the executive branch of government to….what exactly? If you suspect someone is in Vermont illegally, it is against the law to report that suspicion to federal authorities? It’s like a municipality telling employees not to call the state police if they suspect a state law they disagree with, has been broken. I’m not sure how this state law would do if it was challenged in federal court. We all know Vermont’s track record in the SCOTUS.

    • Ivan Shadis

      Municipalities are creatures of the state, but states are not creatures of the federal government.

      Municipalities powers are established by and constrained in state statute.

      States, on the other hand, are not incorporated by federal statute – they have their own constitutions.

      The relationship between municipal and state agencies is not equivalent to that between state and federal.

      State’s rights are held to be elementary to democratic self-governance in our system – this includes the rights of states to allocate and direct their police power.

      Vermont sets out this right in its constitution.

      • chris wilmot

        They are giving out licenses that will be used on federal highways. Vt is not an island. Other states want to know who vt is letting on the roads. It’s as though people forgot that our roadways are connected to other states

        • Nachman Avruch

          And? Should Vermont’s driving laws be exactly the same as every other state, so we never give anyone a license they couldn’t get from 49 other states? Or should we make sure anyone who might be denied a license in NH, or California, or Alaska, can’t get one here either? What about the cars? Should we adopt the same inspection, insurance and tax scheme of every other state? Or does Vermont, as a sovereign state, retain some freedom to make its own laws?

          • chris wilmot

            We should not be giving licenses to illegals whom have no right to be on the road.
            And FYI- those licenses grant them access to OTHER states- states who never consented to vt absurd license for illegals agenda.

          • Nachman Avruch

            Well presumably those states retain the power to pass their own laws, for instance laws that say drivers without legal residence can be stopped or detained. That’s the wonderful thing about federalist democracy, different states can make rules differently to suit their particular needs and desires. That’s literally the intended structure of our legal system, so thank you for confirming that it is working as intended.

        • JohnGreenberg

          “Other states want to know who vt is letting on the roads” Please provide some documentation or examples for this statement.

          • chris wilmot

            It’s a license legal in vt only. It’s not legal in other states as it’s not an actual license-it’s a “privladge card”

          • Stewart Clark

            Is this true Chris? I am assuming a VT “Drivers Priviledge Card” is legal in other states. Your previous comment below says this card gives access to other states. I can’t find the answer on the VT DMV web site. Please give reference to your “not legal in other states” claim. Thanks.

      • Dan DeCoteau

        But in matters of defense of the nation, federal law supersedes state law. Article 7 as mentioned above also states that it is unconstitutional (Vermont Constitution) to give special treatment to certain groups or individuals and all laws are meant for the common good of the governed. If there are special laws for people who are already breaking federal law the state government could be unconstitutionally making laws to ignore their law breaking while ordinary citizens do not have such a privilege.

      • Steve Baker

        How well did that agreement work when the Obama Admin sued Arizona

      • Nachman Avruch

        Well said

      • Dave Bellini

        Thank-you for this answer. If this is so…. why then, can the federal government pass laws that states have to follow? Also, can states exempt themselves from federal regulations?

        • Ivan Shadis

          The supremacy clause of the constitution directs the courts to apply federal law over state laws where those laws conflict.

          The courts have upheld that, under the 10th amendment, states can not be compelled to enforce federal regulatory programs.

          So, while states may not obstruct federal law they are not mandated to enforce it either.

      • Jon Corrigan

        You neglected to mention that a state also can not prevent the federal government from enforcing federal law. They could, if they chose, make a point by setting up several checkpoints around the state.
        In addition, our non-appointed County Sheriffs don’t work for the Governor; VT Statutes clearly show they can enter into agreements with other states and/or the federal government.

        • Ivan Shadis

          I didn’t know there was a question as to whether or not the federal government was able to enforce federal law.

          Sheriffs are accountable to the electorate, and can enter into contracts to provide law enforcement services with the state and assist, if they choose, with some federal enforcement.

          Sheriffs are also liable in court if they act with bias against individuals, or if they violate persons constitutional rights – for example, the Orange County Sheriffs department recently settled a racial profiling suit for $15k and an agreement to implement a bias free policing policy after they detained a man and transferred him to ICE without first having reasonable suspicion.

          • Jon Corrigan

            I didn’t know there was a question about bias in my response.

  • Bruce Wilkie

    With this revelation, Ide has shown himself to be duplicitous. Add the totally unnecessary change in the inspection laws and procedures, he has proven to be unfit for his position. He needs to go.

    • chris wilmot

      What “revelation”?

      That vt is not only in violation of federal law but is adding and abetting known criminals?

      • Nachman Avruch

        Adding them to what? Again, these are not ‘known criminals.’ At worst, they’ve committed a civil infraction remedied by deportation.

        • chris wilmot

          We give drivers licenses to folks whom ICE wants to deport- yet we don’t allow ICE to be contacted. That’s aiding criminals

    • Steve Baker

      Duplicitous? I thought it’s OK to pick and chose which laws to follow, No?
      Where do Illegals get “their civil rights” from?

      • JohnGreenberg

        “Where do Illegals get “their civil rights” from?” From the US constitution, as interpreted repeatedly and for centuries by the US Supreme Court. James Madison: “as they [aliens], owe, on the one hand, a temporary obedience, they are
        entitled, in return, to their [constitutional] protection and
        advantage.” For various cites, see

        • David Dempsey

          You are absolutely correct about the U.S constitution protecting the civil rights of illegal immigrants. But the farmers who hire the various factions of the illegal immigrant railroad, such as the coyotes, the people who issue fake social security numbers and the rest to smuggle workers to their farms are breaking the law. For their part in this human trafficking, shouldn’t the farmers be charged with some crime. Congress has the constitutional authority to establish laws of naturalization and immigration. If Vermont chooses not to cooperate with federal authorities to enforce the constitutional Congressional laws, why couldn’t Vermont also decide not to recognize the constituional civil rights of illegal immigrants. My point is when we pick and choose the laws to enforce or to ignore, who decides what is legal and what is illegal.

        • jan van eck

          This is one of those very, very rare moments when I find I am actually in complete agreement with everything that John Greenberg writes. Right on the money; he nailed it. In all candor, I did not think this would ever occur; I now give credit where credit is due. Man, what amazing times we live in!

  • Will Workman

    Exactly what civil right is being defended here? The “right” to do business with our government anonymously and receive a privilege even when violating our laws? The right to have one arm of government hide you from another?

  • bnaeck

    It is a disgrace the State of VT would require its employees to violate federal law. The State expects its citizens to cooperate with State & local law enforcement in all matters, then the State needs to set the correct example and cooperate with ICE.
    The only way to stop the abuse of illegals coming into the country is take the appeal out of it. Employers who hire illegals need to be cracked down on as well as the illegals themselves. How many more need to die in the desert of the southwest or have their lives ruined by becoming drug mules before we realize that they are victims too? If VT farms and business need more low skilled / low wage workers, then we need to revise these programs to support our State’s business needs. We and our State officials are just being lazy as it’s easier to hide illegals than to reform the program and let them become legal temporary workers &/or permanent residents. We are fooling ourselves if we say hiding illegals is protecting them and their interests. It must end.

  • Paul Richards

    “Communications from 2016 show that DMV investigators “continued to collude” with ICE, even sharing applications with federal authorities, he said.”
    It’s a sad day when cooperating with federal law enforcement is referred to as collusion. Not assisting them is aiding and abetting criminals. This just goes to show how backwards the liberals have twisted our country around.

    • Nachman Avruch

      Illegal or undocumented immigrants are not criminals. Failure to obtain legal residence or a valid visa is a civil infraction.

      • Paul Richards

        Call it whatever you want but it’s “unlawful” to be here “illegally” or “without proper documentation”. Illegal is Illegal! Unlawful is unlawful. I’m not sure what kind of excuses you are trying to make for this activity or for Vermont to aid and abet people engaging in these activities by not assisting the feds but it’s pretty clear to me that you don’t agree that all laws should be enforced. Getting a speeding ticket in Vermont is generally a “civil” offense. When you get a speeding ticket it says that you have a duty to appear in court or otherwise answer to the charge. If you don’t do that then a bench warrant can be issued and you can be arrested which is considered a “criminal” offense for failure to appear. So even if I bought into your twisted logic regarding criminal versus civil argument, which I don’t, eventually it becomes a criminal offense. Are you suggesting we sidestep the law and don’t issue speeding tickets so there is no documented civil offense and therefore no way for it to ever become a criminal offense? That’s what is going on with these people who are here “illegally”, “without papers” or whatever you want to call them. It’s all just a bunch of wrangling and ignoring laws so the liberals can flood this country with a bunch of people who will add to their permanent underclass of those ever dependent on big government. That’s where they get their voters from and it shows. If you want to have an investigation on illegal influence of elections in this country you should look into this blatant ignorance of the law that insures that all of these people vote democrat. Add to that the illegal actions of obama that insured this to continue. The Russians? Give me a break!

  • Steve Baker

    It’s truly amazing to watch our state bureaucracy go through the contortions not to do the right thing.
    Lead by the likes of Pat, Pete, Bernie and others we’re lead to believe our immigration policy is broken. How can a system be broken if our politicians who are sworn to uphold the law choose to ignore it or circumvent it. All of the media outlets in Vermont are fully behind open borders and illegal immigration including VT digger. Vermont like several other states has decided to spend so much revenue and resources trying to go around federal law it’s amazing.
    If our politicians handled opiates in the same manner they do illegals, we would just ignore the law and start handing OxyContin and Percocet out to anybody who wanted it.
    I hope our politicians remember the 70s, when the federal government mandated 55 mile an hour speed limit or no Federal highway funding. I also hope they remember more than a third of Vermont State budget comes from those very people we continue to poke in the eye.

    • Dan DeCoteau

      My reading of Article 7 implies that it is unconstitutional to create a special law for only a particular group of people or to create a privilege which allows a particular group of people to be ignored by the current laws of the country or state. And, if this happens or is brought about by the government in power the people have a right to change the government and should do so.

      Article 7. of The Vermont Constitution [Government for the people; they may change it]

      That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common
      benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community,
      and NOT FOR the particular emolument or advantage of any single person,
      family, or SET OF PERSONS, who are a part only of that community; and
      that the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible
      right, to reform or alter government, in such manner as shall be, by
      that community, judged most conducive to the public weal.

      • Paul Richards

        “…to create a special law for only a particular group of people or to create a privilege which allows a particular group of people to be ignored by the current laws of the country or state.”
        That is exactly what we have and it’s called tyranny.

  • Tim Vincent

    State Senate presses DMV to NOT enforce the law.
    Looney tunes reach new low.
    If all these illegal aliens were Irish bartenders, would there be such an outcry?
    BTW, there ARE a lot of illegal alien Irish bartenders in Mass.

    • Ivan Shadis

      The DMV is part of the state. Federal immigration law is federal. States are not obliged to enforce federal law.

      • chris wilmot

        Our roads are part of a federal highway system. Vt is not a bubble. Other states want to know who vt is letting behind wheel

      • Steve Baker

        You can’t take all the Federal $$’s then poke them in the eye.

      • Marnie Joseph

        So why do Vermont residents have to provide their SSN to DMV but illegals do not? (they don’t have one, I know). This is a Federal law that Vermont does not ignore but enforces. It’s quite obvious that the State picks and chooses what laws to enforce. Furthermore, Vermont takes in millions from the Federal Government. So it’s ok to suck on the financial teat of the Feds but not enforce the law. So if I see a bank robbery or someone stealing mail (both federal offenses), I will not report it.

        • Ivan Shadis

          You may be charged with ‘misprision of a felony’ if you actively conceal a known felony from an investigator, but not for simply failing to report one.

          States are protected from federal over reach by the 10th amendment, which reads:

          “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
          prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively,
          or to the people.”

          from this the courts have determined that Congress can not compel states to enforce federal regulatory programs… including by withholding funds in a coercive manner.

          This is where states have power to nullify unconstitutional federal programs.

    • Steve Baker

      Several were recently rounded up!!

  • Dan DeCoteau

    If you enter Mexico, intend to stay there illegally and are caught be the authorities you will face 2 years in a Mexican prison. If you are deported from Mexico return and are caught again you will be facing 10 years in a Mexican prison. No privileges for` Americans or anyone else!

  • Paul M Rouelle

    If the government is going to tie the hands of Law enforcement, than all Vt. residence should take it upon themselves to report illegals to ICE!!!

  • Eva Schectman

    “The state passed a law in 2013 to establish a new driving credential
    that does not require proof of legal status in the United States.
    Designed to accommodate migrant farmworkers, many of whom are
    undocumented, the driver’s privilege cards require only proof that the
    applicant is a Vermont resident.” Since this state law was enacted the DMV has continued to notify ICE when they get driver’s privilege cards. One of the precepts of this new law was that the DMV was not supposed to contact ICE when migrant workers and other undocumented (not the same as illegal) workers applied for these driver’s privilege cards. Without the driver’s privilege cards undocumented workers are at the mercy of their employers, unable to leave the dairy farms (in most cases) where they work, on their own, contributing to their isolation and the potential abuse that that isolation could encourage. Also, without migrant workers in Vermont the dairy industry here would be in serious trouble.

    • chris wilmot

      Their poor choice to flaunt the law should have consequences. We should not reward them from criminal behavior

    • Tim Vincent

      If the dairy industry depends on illegal labor to stay in business, then it’s got a bad business model.
      Furniture makers could probably do better with child labor.
      Is that a good idea?

      • Gary Dickinson

        Think about what a revival our cloth weaving industry could have if loom owners could employ South American orphan children, work them 24 hours a day, house them in the factory and pay them in candy!

  • Bob Belisle

    I feel sorry for the DMV employees when he/she has to determine if an individual meets acceptable conditions to obtain a license. I have worked in other countries in my career and obtained drivers licenses from that country. I had to produce passports and visas to obtain the license. I have lived in different states. I had to produce a drivers license from the prior state to get a new one in the new state. The DMV could then check my drivers license to see my driving record and other restrictions. Question: how does DMV determine if a license should be granted to the individual requesting a license. How do they know his record–DUI, loss of prior license, etc. Hopefully there are checks and balances to determine eligibility.

  • Tim Vincent

    If I get stopped for a traffic violation, I’ll just say “no habla englis” and fully expect to be sent on my way with a smile.
    Maybe I’ll put a little Mexican flag on my car – just to help the story along.