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Activists Suing Rensselaer County Over Plan To Provide Voter Information To ICE

Activists gathered Monday afternoon outside the Rensselaer County Building where the Department of Motor Vehicles is housed to protest county plans to share residents’ personal information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil, voting rights and community organizations, including the New York Immigration Coalition and Citizen Action of New York, say they filed a lawsuit Friday to block the County Board of Elections from sharing residents’ personal information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they register to vote.

Marinda Galindo is Counsel for Demos, a public policy and advocacy organization.   "On July 18th Rensselaer County announced that, effective immediately, it would transmit to ICE the personal information of all residents who register to vote at the DMV. Under this plan, county residents with U.S. citizenship are threatened with ICE investigation as the price of registering to vote at the DMV."

Republican Frank Merola is the county clerk.   "What we're turning over is names of anybody that registered to vote within New York state that lives in Rensselaer County, we're turning them over to ICE to let them take a look to make sure that they are legal voters and they are here legally. That's all it is."

Galindo says the county policy intimidates voters and violates federal and state laws prohibiting disclosure of sensitive photo registration information.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Vanessa Agudelo is manager of member engagement for the Hudson Valley at the New York Immigration Coalition

Vanessa Agudelo is manager of member engagement for the Hudson Valley at the New York Immigration Coalition:   "Rensselaer County is pulling a page from the Trump playbook by intimidating new citizens from exercising their right to vote, and ultimately undermining our democracy, simply for political gain. This is yet one of a long series of assaults and attacks against immigrants and communities of color, designed to keep them from becoming full participants in our democracy."

Bryan MacCormack is with the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement. He cited the county sheriff’s cooperation with ICE investigations.   "We stand on the soil of the only county in the state of New York who has a 287g agreement with ICE, with a county clerk who is against driver's licenses and has threatened to hang a 'we call ICE' banner outside of this very DMV."

Cessie Alfonso, immigration legal education advocate with Citizen Action, is a resident of Rensselaer County. She warns government officials "don't scare people, don't be unjust to them," and don't give ICE any information.   "America is peppered with attempts to stop people who look like me and people who speak Espanol know that we've been intimidated. This is nothing new. But I tell you, that I, and the people behind me, and most Americans know, that we have fought in the past and we will continue to fight. We will fight against this anti-racist, anti-immigration, anti-voting policy. We will not stop. And I have to say, we will take the system on legally, and we will exercise our right to protest."

In response to the rally, Rensselaer County issued a statement, which says in part, "the County has not been served with a complaint. As with any civil proceeding against the County, if and when the County is served, the County will assess the merit or lack of merit of the allegations and act accordingly at the appropriate time. With that  said,  the  County  Board  of  Elections  remains  committed  to  fulfilling  its  legal  obligations,  including  publishing  voter  names  and  addresses."

The full statement follows:

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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