DENVER (AP) — Two Democratic lawmakers in Colorado said Thursday they will introduce a bill to establish guidelines on how the state can share personal information with federal agencies after emails showed workers at the Division of Motor Vehicles provided data to immigration authorities. The proposal by state Sen. Julie Gonzales and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez came after an immigrant rights group obtained emails through an open records request that they say shows improper communication between DMV employees and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The emails included requests from ICE agents for identifying information on applicants for driver's licenses under a law that allows individuals who cannot demonstrate lawful presence in the U.S. to apply for a license, according to the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Other emails showed that staff within the DMV fraud investigations unit contacted ICE to identify people and their immigration status.
The emails were "inappropriate and unprofessional" and the employees involved were counseled and given training to address their actions, said Meghan Tanis, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue and the Division of Motor Vehicles.
"While these actions were within our statutory authority, the language used was not in alignment with the ideals and values of the department," Tanis added.
Following the disclosure, the DMV will require supervisor approval for federal agency requests for personal information and any DMV-initiated contact with any federal agency, Tanis said.
ICE maintained that cooperation with local law enforcement is essential to protecting public safety. The agency referred other questions to the DMV.
Arash Jahanian, director of policy and civil rights litigation at the Meyer Law Office in Denver, said hundreds of families were potentially affected by the data sharing.
"When allowed, ICE mines the personal information entrusted to state agencies to carry out its lawless mission, turning state officials who should be serving and protecting their residents into ICE's henchmen to the detriment of the community," Jahanian said.
Under the planned bill, personal information on file with the state could not be used for immigration enforcement. Personal information would only be disclosed to law enforcement with a warrant, subpoena or another order signed by a judge.
Gonzales, who represents a Denver district, said health and economic concerns involving the pandemic, combined with the trauma of immigration policy under the Trump administration, has caused families and individuals in the country illegally to withdraw and lose trust in local government.
"It is our responsibility in the state to ensure that all Coloradans have trust in our state agencies. That trust has been broken and its on us to make it right," Gonzales said.
The lawmakers said they plan to introduce the bill after the legislative session begins on Feb. 16.
By PATTY NIEBERG Associated Press/Report for America
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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