Updated: OTG and more than 50 organizations call on ICE to comply with FOIA, release data on immigration enforcement cooperation

Update: on May 9, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) filed a FOIA suit charging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with unlawfully withholding information related to ICE’s immigration enforcement actions and its interaction with other law enforcement agencies. The suit follows the letter sent by OTG and more than 50 organizations expressing concern over the selective disclosure of data by ICE, and calling for ICE to release the full record on immigration cooperation in response to public FOIA requests.

“The selective manner in which ICE is choosing to release information on immigration enforcement is a threat to accountable government,” according to Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment. “ICE has a legal obligation to respond to public demands for information with accurate and timely data in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.”

Read the press release from TRAC and the full text of the complaint, here.

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2017 – Today, a coalition of organizations dedicated to government openness and accountability, human rights, civil rights, and immigrant rights is calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with the legal obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and fully disclose information on immigration enforcement cooperation between federal and non-federal law enforcement agencies. We urge ICE to comply with the FOIA in a timely manner, and to permit the release of data on immigration enforcement cooperation in full compliance with local and state transparency laws.

The coalition is concerned that ICE has significantly reduced the amount of information it is releasing, while at the same time publishing incomplete and selective information in its weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Reports.” These reports have been criticized for being used in a discriminatory manner to target undocumented communities and punish cities that the administration claims do not cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. Following the announcement that ICE is suspending the publication of these weekly reports, we are calling on ICE to disclose the full record on immigration cooperation in response to public FOIA requests.

The FOIA statute 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. In recent cases, however, ICE has failed to cite any lawful exemption nor has it provided any justification for withholding such information. Claiming, as ICE has, that the releases were discretionary and the agency is not required to release such data is not an adequate or legitimate rationale to justify nondisclosure. 

Last month, OTG and a broad coalition of groups raised privacy and accountability concerns stemming from the executive actions on immigration and refugees, emphasizing that complete, consistent, unbiased, public data is critical for the public to hold the government accountable. Today, we are reiterating these concerns, and emphasizing that full disclosure of complete and accurate information has critical policy implications, as the administration is citing such data to justify the possible withdrawal of federal grants in order to force cities to cooperate with immigration authorities. Full access to unbiased data on immigration enforcement is a matter of high public interest at this time, and is essential to better inform policy making at the federal and state level. We are calling on ICE’s FOIA office to ensure the timely disclosure of this information, and process pending and future FOIA requests in an expeditious manner.

Read the letter here