A new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reveals that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is increasingly concealing information that was previously released to the public in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The report describes efforts by ICE to block access to information on immigration enforcement cooperation between federal and non-federal law enforcement agencies, exposing possible violations of the agency’s FOIA obligations.
The report provides the most comprehensive data available on ICE’s use of detainer requests – a tactic used by ICE to force local law enforcement to keep undocumented individuals in custody for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release. TRAC specializes in FOIA requests on immigration enforcement, and consistently publishes case-by-case data on the use of detainers to make the information available for the public to better understand how local law enforcement is cooperating with federal authorities in their communities. However, ICE is increasingly concealing data about its own immigration investigations and enforcement in its refusal to release information previously disclosed in response to FOIA requests.
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. Since then, TRAC has been involved in litigation with ICE over its obstructive responses, which range from ICE refusing to answer the requests to claiming the FOIA officers cannot locate the responsive information. TRAC has also identified troubling secrecy trends, including data fields mysteriously disappearing from the files it receives in response to its requests, such as data on whether ICE is actually taking individuals into custody after issuing a detainer, or ultimately deporting them. All of this information had been routinely released in response to past FOIA requests. The ongoing obstruction by ICE is an apparent abuse of its obligations under the FOIA statute, which permits the withholding of information only if an agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption described in the statute, or if disclosure is prohibited by law.
“Complete access to unbiased data on immigration enforcement continues to be a matter of high public interest, and is essential to better inform policy making at the federal and state level,” according to Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment. “ICE’s refusal to comply with the FOIA is a matter of growing concern, and deserves close scrutiny from Congress and federal oversight bodies to examine whether ICE is deliberately violating its legal transparency obligations.”
Read the full report and press release from TRAC here.