ICE secrecy on immigration enforcement stokes fear, prevents accountability

An internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo obtained by ProPublica appears to confirm what advocates and immigrant communities have suspected for months; the Trump administration is targeting all undocumented immigrants for deportation, rather than a subset with criminal backgrounds as the White House has claimed. The obfuscation of enforcement policy is part of a trend of increasing secrecy at ICE under the new administration, and prevents effective public oversight.

While President Trump has claimed publicly that his administration’s immigration enforcement is focused on undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, the numbers thus far have told a different story. An ICE report released in May showed that arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal background increased by about 150 percent under the new administration, while arrests of undocumented immigrants with criminal records increased by less than 20 percent.

The internal ICE memo released by ProPublica contains slight differences from previously released documents, but those differences could have a significant impact. Whereas a memo released by DHS Secretary Kelly earlier this year stated that ICE agents “may [emphasis added] initiate enforcement actions against removable aliens,” the internal February memo states, “Effective immediately, ERO will [emphasis added] take enforcement action against all removable aliens.” This memo was sent by Matthew Albence, Executive Associate Director at the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, and seems to confirm that the enforcement priorities laid out publicly by President Trump are more suggestion than policy, as the memo mandates the deportation of all undocumented immigrants, including the vast majority that have never been accused of criminal activity.  

The contradictory public and internal immigration enforcement policies make it difficult for Congress and the public to evaluate implementation and provide meaningful oversight. Even beyond secretive policy positions, ICE has further attempted to dodge openness and accountability by refusing to answer certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Although the FOIA does allow for certain government information to be exempted from release, ICE has recently been denying FOIA requests without citing any lawful exemption. In April, OpenTheGovernment and partners called on ICE to comply with the FOIA, and release comprehensive information on cooperation between federal immigration authorities and state and local law enforcement in accordance with the law.

In a recent editorial, OTG Executive Director Lisa Rosenberg detailed the Trump Administration’s secrecy and disinformation campaign targeting immigrants. Read the full op-ed here.


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