An Escondido man said he wanted to drive legally here in California and now is facing deportation because of it. The man and his attorneys believe, AB 60, a law that was designed to help undocumented immigrants obtain California driver licenses legally is now being used against them.
Playing with his children, Joel Hernandez said he has tried to shield his younger children from the fear that he faces deportation.
“I am worried about the financial and economic harm that will come to my family should I get deported," Hernandez said.
The situation started for Hernandez last July when he said he left his home, on his way to work. Nearby, Hernandez said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were waiting to pull him over.
Hernandez said those agents had a copy of his AB 60 driver’s license photo when they pulled him over.
AB 60 driver’s licenses allow undocumented residents to drive legally as well as acquire much-needed insurance coverage. When Assembly Bill 60 became law in 2013, it stated information shared in order to obtain the special driver’s license would not be used “as evidence of the holder’s citizenship or immigration status” or “as a basis for a criminal investigation, arrest or detention.”
Since living here in California, Hernandez said he has not committed any crimes.
When Hernandez was stopped by ICE Agents, it was in connection to a deportation order that had been issued for him back in 2005. Hernandez feared that order was now catching up to him. But he also feels that the state of California inadvertently betrayed him, through his AB 60 license.
“They assured us that the DMV would not share our information with anyone,” Hernandez told Telemundo 20.
Hernandez is not alone. Last year, NBC 7 Investigates spoke with another Escondido man who said during his arrest, ICE Agents had a copy of his AB 60 driver’s license in-hand.
“They are going to come to knock on your door if they choose to. People warned me,” that man said. “But I believed it when the state said it wouldn’t be that way.”
Hernandez first spoke with NBC 7’s media partner Voice of San Diego for their investigation into access of AB 60 information.
To read Voice of San Diego’s investigation, click here.
In response to Voice of San Diego’s inquiries regarding Hernandez’s case and others, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez started investigating reports of federal agents dipping into Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records to find undocumented immigrants. In a letter to the DMV, Gonzalez asked for clarification on the department’s policies regarding agencies accessing AB 60 license information and photos.
On February 4, Deputy Director Sonia Huestis wrote back explaining it 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.
Huestis explained law enforcement, including immigration officials, can access DMV driver information through two Department of Justice programs: the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) and Cal-Photo programs. Both programs interface with the DMV’s database but the information available does not include a driver’s legal status here in the country.
To read the DMV’s letter, click here.
In response to NBC 7 Investigates, Lauren Mack, a spokesperson for ICE, pointed out that agents do not have direct access to the DMV’s database. In regards to access to programs that interface with the DMV’s database, Mack said, “Information related to the methods and how ICE agents develop cases is law enforcement sensitive.”
Hernandez and his attorneys believe this is how ICE Agents found his information.
“We only come here to work, it’s just not fair,” Hernandez said.
Assemblymember Gonzalez told media partner Voice of San Diego that she plans to look into the situation further.
In response to Voice of San Diego's reporting, former State Assemblymember Luis Alejo, the author of AB 60, called the revelations "troubling" and said that it could have "a chilling effect in immigrant communities across the state and immigrants could be less inclined to apply or renew their AB60 licenses in the future."
Both Gonzalez and Alejo have asked the Governor and Attorney General's offices for more information on how immigration officials are accessing AB 60 license records.