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Immigrant advocates pressure Washington's licensing chief to step down

Washington Department of Licensing
Washington Department of Licensing

Immigrant rights leaders in Washington state say it's time for Pat Kohler to resign as director of the state's Department of Licensing.

The DOL came under scrutiny in January for handing over people's personal and citizenship information to federal immigration authorities. That violated an executive order from Washington’s governor.

Latino Civic Alliance, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Washington, El Centro De La Raza, and multiple other groups are calling for Kohler’s resignation.

Latino Civic Alliance’s Board Chair, Nina Martinez, says it’s a serious problem in a state that otherwise is standing up to a federal administration that is “tough on immigrants.”

Martinez: "The reason is that as the leader of a state agency we rely on, she did not and nor did her leadership team comply with this executive order."

Martinez says the release of personal information caused unnecessary fear for immigrants who needed to renew their driver’s license or vehicle registration.

Martinez: "And we want accountability and that means removing and changing the leadership, [which] gives us a chance of hope that we can really rebuild the trust in our communities."

Prior to January, the licensing department was handing over personal and citizenship information to federal immigration authorities, in violation of a Washington state executive order. Those releases have since stopped, and DOL has made other policy changes in recent weeks.

  In response to the call for her resignation, Director Kohler said in a statement: “I remain deeply committed to implementing immediate changes and proper controls to ensure we are safeguarding our customers’ personal information”. She says she's working with the offices of the governor and attorney general on the effort.

Kohler has previously apologized that their work didn't align with the state's values. A deputy director stepped down last month, but Kohler has not indicated that she plans to do the same.

A spokesperson for Governor Inslee says they're monitoring what's happening at the licensing agency.