New California Law to Protect Personal Information on State Databases From Immigration Authorities

The bill followed recent news investigations that discovered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could access state-run law enforcement databases

A new law recently signed by Gov. Newsom aims to prohibit the use of personal information stored in statewide databases for immigration enforcement purposes.

The bill followed recent news investigations that discovered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could access state-run databases, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, containing personal information about participants in AB 60 driver’s license program. 

AB 60 driver’s license program, which became effective in 2015, was initially touted as a possible solution to the state's uninsured motorist problem by allowing people to apply for licenses regardless of their immigration status and without proving that they are lawfully present in the United States.

“It's important that everybody who we told to go get a license to drive, that the license isn't putting them in danger of being deported by ICE," Assemblywoman Gonzalez told NBC 7.

A local lawmaker is trying to change a possible legal loop that allows immigration officials to access a driver’s license program for undocumented residents. NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia has more.

The new law, AB 1747, authored by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, does not apply to cases where the information is related to an individual’s criminal history. The bill will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Since 2018, NBC 7 Investigates has spoken to multiple people who said they participated in AB 60’s driver’s license program and then found themselves facing deportation.

Joel Hernandez of Escondido said ICE agents had a copy of his AB 60 driver’s license photo when they pulled him over in July 2018.

Hernandez said he felt that the state of California inadvertently betrayed him, through his AB 60 license.

In response to inquiries by Voice of San Diego regarding Hernandez’s case and others, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez started investigating reports of federal agents dipping into DMV records to find undocumented immigrants.

Gonzalez said ICE searched a decades-long backlog of people who were recorded with misdemeanor illegal entry charges but let go and then matched those names with current DMV records. Those records included information such as current addresses and photos.

In February 2019, a spokesperson from the DMV explained the DMV does not maintain a separate database for driver license applicants under AB 60, meaning all of the DMV’s records can be accessed by outside agencies.

Starting July 1, 2020, the new law will also prohibit the misuse of statewide law enforcement databases, specifically the use of California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), by requiring justification for inquiries seeking information, other than criminal history information.

Additionally, this bill authorizes the Attorney General to conduct audits and investigations to monitor subscriber compliance of CLETS.

"Every time we create a law in California, ICE figures out a way to get around this. But this is one more level of protection that we're trying to ensure," Gonzalez added.

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