Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A report issued Monday by two civil rights groups concluded that state employees have had a pattern and practice of providing New Mexicans’ sensitive personal information – including immigration status – to federal employees “with little to no questioning.”
Somos un Pueblo Unido and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico say their report underscores the need for clear policies directing employees how to handle requests that would reveal someone’s physical or mental disabilities, immigration status, sexual orientation or other personal information.
The groups are supporting legislation this session, House Bill 108 and Senate Bill 107, that would prohibit state employees from disclosing private information unless required by, for example, a court order.
Somos and the ACLU also say that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration could direct state agencies to craft policies on the disclosure of personal information, even if legislation isn’t enacted in this year’s 30-day session.
“New Mexicans should be able to access critical state services with full confidence their personal sensitive information will not be disclosed to outside agencies or individuals without strict criteria such as a court order,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos, an immigrant and worker rights group.
Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, staff attorney for Somos, said that it’s clear the Lujan Grisham administration wants to protect private information but that employees in the field sometimes struggle with what to disclose.
The report by Somos and ACLU examined email messages and other communications between state departments and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The groups found, for example, that the state Motor Vehicle Division released the “sensitive personal information” of more than 40 New Mexicans to ICE agents in the first seven months of 2019 without limitations.
The MVD has since required that all such requests for information go to the general counsel of the Taxation and Revenue Department for review. The division will release driver information to ICE or law enforcement agencies only if there’s a search warrant, subpoena or other court order.
“I am committed to ensuring that the Taxation and Revenue Department protects the sensitive personal information of New Mexico’s drivers and taxpayers,” Stephanie Schardin Clarke, the department’s secretary, said Monday. “While our department will continue to comply with valid law enforcement requests, we will not expose personal information through informal requests.”
The report comes after the Lujan Grisham administration rejected requests from an ICE official last summer for direct access to New Mexico worker and employer records.