City halts Detroit ID program, seeks new vendor over data leak worries

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city of Detroit has suspended its Detroit ID program because of concerns the city's vendor could have leaked private information of more than 800 applicants, including details about undocumented immigrants to databases accessible by federal immigration officials.

The D-ID was launched in December 2016 in recognition that diverse populations, including many homeless residents and undocumented immigrants, lack an accepted form of government identification, without which they cannot access needed services and resources.

District 6 Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero and members of the Immigration Task Force stood in front of the Spirit of Detroit monument Wednesday calling for corrective action due to risks associated with redesign of the Detroit ID program.

Council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero, center, council president Mary Sheffield, and members of the Immigration Task Force on Wednesday called for corrective action due to risk associated with the Detroit ID program.

The program successfully ran until the pandemic, when it was halted for two years.

Since relaunching in May, the new vendor for the program, Mobility Capital Finance, Inc. or known as MoCaFi, has allegedly been found of selling and/or sharing personal information through clearinghouses used by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). This puts immigrant communities at risk for targeted enforcement and exposing all applicants’ personal information to third parties without their consent, Santiago-Romero said.

MoCaFi rebutted the claim, stating it has not sold and does not sell personal information to third parties, including ICE and other government agencies. 

"MoCaFi does not share personal information with law enforcement agencies unless required to do so by law," spokeswoman Marjorie Fields Harris said in a statement to The News.

She added that MoCaFi has produced ffewer than 1,000 cards for the city.

"MoCaFi was founded on creating equitable and inclusive communities for everyone and recognizes and celebrates the dignity and humanity of all people. This company was born out of a commitment to address the needs of people of color whom traditional banking institutions have systematically disenfranchised."

It's estimated 30,000 Detroiters are foreign-born, Santiago-Romero said.

The $50,000 contract with MoCaFi was approved during an emergency procurement in April 2020 and was expected to last through 50,000 printed cards.

Santiago-Romero, who was previously undocumented, said the city needs to remain transparent to those they serve and protect residents' information.

"We had a program that worked and we ask to go back to that program. We must work now with the affected communities to swiftly find a solution that protect all those that this was intended to support," said Santiago-Romero. "Ultimately, we think this needs to be brought in-house... Frankly, this would have never happened if we were listened to when we sounded the alarm that MoCaFi had ties to ICE."

Benefits of Detroit ID include accessing schools, pharmaceuticals, health care and opening a bank account. The Detroit ID does not allow driving or voting. 

Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett Jr. said the city has received no complaints or indication there has been any misuse of the data that was collected.

"The concerns raised by some are false and have no legitimate relation to the Detroit ID program," he said. "Because this false information was being spread throughout the immigrant community, on Friday, we agreed with MoCaFi, shut down the Detroit ID program to stop the spread of misinformation," Mallet said. "We will begin the process of developing a new program that hopefully will not give rise to groups spreading false information."

It was discovered earlier this year that MoCaFi was using a different process to verify identify including requiring Social Security numbers, separating and excluding those without, one of the main constituencies the program intended to serve. 

Christine Sauvé heads up the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Her group became aware of the problem early this year.

"We quickly alerted the Detroit Health Department to the matter and asked it be investigated. At that point, some 200 people had signed up and we were worried their information may have been shared. We were assured by the chief public health officer that the program had been paused," Sauvé said.

She learned on July 8 that the program was not paused and an additional 600 people were registered. "This has been nothing short of frightening for our community," she said.

For those who applied between May 1 and July 15, information may have been shared to third parties and Sauvé encouraged them to visit or see their Preparing Your Family guide.

The city said it will be ending its contract with MoCaFi and will be seeking other vendors. Still, the coalition is asking for the city to alert all 883 applicants that their information could have been leaked and erase such data going forward with a new vendor.

"Given the concerns being expressed by some members of the community, the mayor supports the decision to suspend the program for now, said city spokesman John Roach. "It will give us an opportunity to re-engage with the same constituencies we did when the first developed the Detroit ID to look at how it can best be operated going forward given the evolving concerns about cyber security."

Yvonne Navarrete, who spoke at the protest on behalf of We the People – Michigan, said the need to issue identification should not be on local governments but issued by the state.

"In a state that denies many undocumented, houseless and formerly incarcerated people, access to state identification and driver's licenses, Black and Brown Detroiters showed out for people like my mom," Navarrete said. "Creating this program meant our neighbors recognized her safety and dignity and put in the work, where our state government is failing us."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_