Now, even illegal immigrants can win discrimination lawsuits – and at least one state is barred from asking about an applicants’ legal status.
The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles in August settled a 2014
discrimination case by paying an undocumented Jordanian immigrant $40,000. It
also agreed to more tightly restrict department personnel from inquiring about
license applicants’ immigration status.
The settlement makes it easier for undocumented immigrants to
apply for state driver’s privilege cards without flagging themselves as being
in the country illegally. Vermont offers driver’s privilege cards to state
residents who want to drive but who do not want to undergo the scrutiny
required to obtain a state driver’s license. The driver’s license is covered by
the federal Real ID law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to
set minimum security standards for state licenses.
The settlement requires the department to instruct driver’s
privilege card applicants that they may leave blank the portion of the
application that requests their Social Security number. It also states that
the names of applicants’ need not be run through a database that
would flag their immigration status, and it prohibits DMV employees from
contacting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol
officials unless there is reason to suspect that an applicant’s supporting
documents are forged.
Vermont Human Rights Commission Chairman Karen Richard said the
changes are substantial.
“I think it actually does change a whole lot,” Richard said. “The
application is being simplified in ways so that people don’t make inadvertent
mistakes in filling out the application that might lead them to being referred
“One of the ways that law enforcement identifies people that don’t
have proper identification is to contact ICE and Border Patrol and ask, ‘Do you
have this person in your database’ because their database is obviously much
more robust,” Richard said.
The terms of the settlement make clear that for DMV personnel
“there is no reason for you to be contacting ICE or CPB,” Richardson said. By
committing DMV personnel to abide by the state’s Fair and Impartial Policing
Policy, adopted in 2014, it also clarifies that asking about a person’s
immigration status based on that person’s race, religion or national origin is
Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide, however,
said some changes are already in the works.
“There are some change of procedures that we had already
instituted,” he said in an interview. “This case really commenced a long time
ago. We have revised some of our procedures and we will continue to be vigilant
in our responsibilities.”
Although the procedures narrow the circumstances under which DMV
personnel may contact federal immigration officials, Ide said DMV participation
with federal agencies will not end.
“We’re still working on those procedures. Our law-enforcement
people are still digesting the settlement. We obviously have a responsibility
to participate with our federal partners.”
The procedural changes and cash payment settle a discrimination
complaint brought by Abdel Rababah, who came to the
United States from Jordan on a student visa in 2006 and remained in Vermont after his visa
After he was granted a Driver’s Privilege Card in 2014, he was
referred by DMV staff to the investigations unit, according to a 2015 report by
the Vermont Human Rights Commission.
A detective asked Rababah to meet him at
the DMV without informing him that federal immigrations officials would be
waiting for him. He was taken into custody but later released. He still resides
The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont provided Rababah’s
legal representation in his case against the state.