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License plate cameras. Photo: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Immigration agents have been using a database of nationwide license plate numbers supplied by local police departments to target unauthorized immigrants, according to documents released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Why it matters: Police departments have long used automatic license plate scanners installed to spot criminal suspects and enforce traffic regulations. But Vasudha Talla, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, wrote in a blog post that the organization has "grave concerns about the civil liberties risks of license plate readers take on greater urgency as this surveillance information fuels ICE’s deportation machine."

Details: The records, obtained by the ACLU from the Department of Homeland Security though a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, revealed that more than 80 local law-enforcement agencies in over a dozen states have voluntarily shared their license plate tracking data with ICE.

  • In some cases, they violated "sanctuary city" policies intended to protect undocumented immigrants by limiting police cooperation with ICE for deportation efforts.
  • More than 9,000 ICE agents have access to the database maintained by Vigilant Solutions, which automatically feeds billions of nationwide license-plate "detections."

What they're saying: ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke, told the Washington Post that agents are using the database to assist the agency's immigration-enforcement probes and that people "who have no connection to ICE investigatory or enforcement activities" are being tracked. Bourke also said that Vigilant Solutions is required to inform the agency when it spots unauthorized uses.

Go deeper

Storms pummel flood-hit Pacific Northwest as border river overflows

An image of the water-logged Sumas Prairie area taken last Friday. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Twitter.

The latest ferocious storm system to hit the Pacific Northwest triggered fresh evacuation orders and at least one mudslide in flood-ravaged British Columbia, Canada, late Sunday.

Threat level: Flood sirens sounded in Washington state as the Nooksack River overflowed. Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., told reporters the water flow was headed toward the Canadian border city later Sunday. "There's nothing to stop it," he said.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting aspects of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."