In DMV Settlement, Undocumented Vermonters Win New Protections From Feds

Aug 31, 2016

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has agreed to a $40,000 settlement and a new set of policies after department staff collaborated with federal officials to arrest a resident on immigration charges.

Vermont law has allowed undocumented Vermont residents to get a "driver's privilege card" since 2014. That same year, a Jordanian man named Abdel Rababa was arrested by federal authorities on immigration charges at what was supposed to be a meeting with DMV officials.

DMV staff tipped off federal authorities that they had doubts about Rababa's residency status after a paperwork mistake by the department made it appear that Rababa had claimed to be a legal resident.

Karen Richards, the head of Vermont's Human Rights Commission, says the whole point of the 2014 law was to make it possible for people without legal residency to drive legally.

“If you then take actions such as DMV took in this case based on an individual's national origin, you are essentially eviscerating the intent of the law that the legislature created,” she said Tuesday after the settlement deal was announced.

The settlement requires the DMV to pay Rababa $40,000 and implement new training policies to prevent similar issues in the future.

“One of the problems in this case was that they rolled out this new law and they didn’t actually provide any training or policy changes for their staff, and so staff was left without the tools necessary to actually implement it correctly,” Richards said.

"If you ... take actions such as DMV took in this case based on an individual's national origin, you are essentially eviscerating the intent of the law that the Legislature created." - Karen Richards, Vermont Human Rights Commission

The settlement also requires DMV law enforcement officers to undergo training on “fair and impartial policing and on other immigration and constitutional issues that should help avoid having this unnecessary contact with federal law enforcement,” Richards said.

Richards said Tuesday that she hopes the settlement will send a message to anyone who has avoided the DMV because of concerns about how officials will deal with their immigration status.

“I think the one thing that I was also concerned about is that having a situation like Mr. Rababa’s could have a chilling effect on other people that wanted to go and get this identification, which is really important to people for a lot of different reasons," Richards said. "So I’m hoping that because of this case, individuals who go to apply will not experience the same thing that Mr. Rababa did.”