Late last month, some media outlets reported what is sure to be alarming news to privacy-minded individuals. It appears that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has finalized a contract with Vigilant Solutions, a private company, to obtain access to license plate information. According to an article in The Verge, the company has a database of more than two billion license plates photos, gleaned from vehicle repossessions agencies, other companies, and cameras stationed in police cars as well as bridges and toll booths.
The use of such information and technology as an enforcement tool in apprehending undocumented and illegal immigrants has enormous and troubling implications. ICE agents will presumably be able identify and track people through means that would otherwise breach constitutional and civil liberties if conducted solely through the government; however, since the information is technically being collected by a private company, the government has, in effect, as one critic put it, “sidestep[ed}” the process. With this nationwide database, agents will be able examine a target’s movements and whereabouts (via license plate) for the last five years. Additionally, whenever a new record of a designated plate registers somewhere, agents will receive real-time updates via email alerts.
Needless to say, the potential for abuse is disturbing. Undocumented immigrants charged with traffic offenses, in particular, have been picked up in droves by the government recently. In New Jersey especially, it is not uncommon to see ICE agents habiting our municipal courts, waiting to arrest their targets after they have appeared before the judge. Theoretically, now, even if action is not taken contemporaneously with the traffic incident, ICE agents can, months or years later, use license plate information to track down such people and round them up. Ironically, defendants charged with criminal offenses sometimes enjoy panoply of protections that don’t necessarily apply in the immigration context. The Fourth Amendment, res judicata and the statute of limitations are just some of the doctrines that appear eroded or increasingly irrelevant when it comes to immigration.
Unfortunately, in this highly politicized atmosphere with its ultra-aggressive stance on enforcement, things look to get only starker. In the wake of this new contract as well as other cutting edge measures that the government is taking to seek and find undocumented immigrants, hiding is becoming less and less of a viable strategy. Foreign nationals with immigration issues should strongly consider seeking the advice of immigration counsel to determine what their options are, especially in the event that they are apprehended, whether as a target or as a collateral party.
The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.