ACLU: ICE Targeting Pro-Immigration Activist Groups In Vermont With Help Of DMV

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Public Domain

Vermont's DMV helped ICE target undocumented activists working to secure labor protections for undocumented farmworkers.

An immigrant advocacy group in Vermont working toward securing labor protections to undocumented immigrants working on the state’s dairy farms was targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the assistance of Vermont’s Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

> In October 2017, Vermont-based Migrant Justice scored a major victory in the organization’s campaign to extend labor protections to undocumented farmworkers in the state.

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> After years of public action and lobbying, they reached an agreement with Ben & Jerry’s that established basic labor standards at the farms supplying dairy products to the company.

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> Those standards included one day off a week, a minimum wage of $10 per hour, and accommodations that included electricity and running water — a milestone for farmworkers’ rights in Vermont.

And for many of the group’s organizers, the victory was personal, as they too were undocumented and had worked those same dairy farms, the ACLU noted.

But a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Vermont and others this week alleges that while Migrant Justice organizers were celebrating their success, ICE was using “tactics that law enforcement agencies typically employ to disrupt organized crime” in an effort to arrest and deport them.

> [T]he lawsuit alleges that ICE agents planted at least one informant in Migrant Justice, attempted to hack into the email accounts of the group’s members, and compiled detailed dossiers on their movements and social circles.* And ICE had an eager partner in those efforts — the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.

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> In 2013, Migrant Justice played a critical role in the passage of Vermont’s Driver Privilege Card law, which allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain legal driving permits. But a public-records request filed by the ACLU revealed that DMV officials systematically passed the private information of applicants for those permits directly to ICE, even in cases where ICE agents hadn’t asked for it. Email correspondence obtained in the request show DMV workers using racist language to describe those applicants, referring to “South of the Border” names and in one case lamenting that the state was being “over run by immigrants.”

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> ICE agents used the information they obtained from the Vermont DMV to track down Migrant Justice organizers who’d played critical roles in the group’s labor rights campaigning. According to the lawsuit, since early 2016 at least 20 Migrant Justice members were arrested by ICE, including the four plaintiffs in the suit. ICE agents referenced the group’s activism during some of those arrests, warning that other Migrant Justice organizers would be “next.” In other cases, agents indicated knowledge of the location and time of private meetings for Migrant Justice members that they could only have gained through intensive surveillance.

Despite having no criminal records, leaders of the group were targeted since at least 2014, according to the ACLU — despite policy at the Department of Homeland Security at the time which prioritized removal enforcement against dangerous criminals.

> Two of the plaintiffs in the case, Enrique Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios Rodriguez, were labeled “high-profile targets” by ICE, despite having no criminal record of any kind. Both were highly visible activists in Migrant Justice’s campaign to organize farmworkers.

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> “It’s had an undeniable chilling effect,” said Will Lambek, an organizer with Migrant Justice. “People are legitimately scared that by speaking out for their rights and going to marches and assemblies, they’re going to be targeted. And it’s a founded fear that makes organizing incredibly difficult.”

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