WEST VALLEY CITY — After observing what he describes as an "undeniable statistical pattern" of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detaining people after they renewed their state-issued driving privilege cards, one immigration attorney is recommending that clients not renew them.
Immigration attorney Aaron Tarin, in an email shared with other immigration lawyers and the Utah news media, recommends that lawyers advise clients with criminal histories or prior deportations "not to renew their driving privilege cards until and unless their issues are addressed."
Tarin, along with Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake, and Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, met Friday afternoon with Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith D. Squires and Deputy Commissioner Nannette Rolfe to discuss his concerns.
A statement issued by the the Department of Public Safety following the meeting said, in part, "Through detailed discussions it was determined that there has been no apparent misuse of the Utah Criminal Justice Information System."
According to the statement, "all law enforcement functioning within the state of Utah, to include federal law enforcement, have access to the Utah Criminal Justice Information System."
However, electronic records within the system "do not distinguish whether a person is issued a driving privilege card or a regular driver's license," the statement said.
In an interview after the meeting, Tarin said "Commissioner Squires confirmed that ICE does in fact have access to that database, which includes the addresses and renewal dates, which would explain the pattern we're seeing in our systems where people are getting picked up by ICE at much higher rates within 90 days of their birthday.
"Essentially they're going in and renewing their driving privilege card and that's how ICE is getting their most current address and then going out after people," he said.
Tarin said the enforcement priorities of the Trump administration differ greatly from the Obama White House, which was "going after criminals. But now, it's open to pretty much everyone. The driving privilege card database does present a big risk and a problem for the immigrant community here," Tarin said.
Immigration attorneys did not fully understand the federal government's access to the database and thus "haven't been properly advising the clients," he said.
From an immigration attorney's perspective, getting a traffic ticket is a preferable option to entering deportation proceedings, Tarin said.
"So I'm going to be advising most of my clients not to renew at least until we get a better feel for how aggressive the Trump administration is going to get," Tarin said.
The events are distressing from a public policy perspective as well, he said.
"We wanted our streets to be safer by having insured drivers with identification on the road. That was a state decision that was made and legislated and now it's being undermined substantially by President Trump's federal immigration priorities," Tarin said.
The state has issued driving privilege cards for more than a decade under legislation passed by Utah lawmakers. Backers said the driving privilege card provides a legal means for people who are unauthorized to be in the United States to drive and requires them to insure their vehicles.