An image of the first page of the complaint from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed on behalf of Human Rights Watch by Nixon Peabody. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch
 
(San Francisco, January 10, 2019) – Human Rights Watch filed suit today against the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their failure to respond adequately to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for detailed immigration enforcement data.
 
Human Rights Watch requested data in October 2017 on several aspects of immigration enforcement practices of ICE since 2012, including the apprehension of non-citizens, their detention, disposition of the cases, and the detainees’ final removal or release from detention. Human Rights Watch also requested detailed criminal history, family relationships, and demographic data of non-citizens who were apprehended during that period. This information is crucial to understanding the impact of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies across the system.
 
ICE denied the request outright without providing any of the requested items or its reasons for denying the request.
 
“The data is needed to provide a minimum level of transparency on ICE’s practices, and there is no legal or practical reason for ICE to withhold these records,” said Brian Root, senior quantitative analyst at Human Rights Watch. “Many of the items requested are identical to data that Human Rights Watch has previously received from ICE in response to FOIA requests, making ICE’s denial all the more perplexing.”
 
Attorneys in Nixon Peabody’s San Francisco office are representing Human Rights Watch on a pro bono basis in this lawsuit. The complaint was filed with the Northern District of California.
 
The individualized, disaggregated data Human Rights Watch seeks provides the detail necessary to fully understand how ICE carries out its mandate to deport people who have violated US immigration laws and to identify potential human rights abuses in the process. Human Rights Watch has used the data ICE has provided in response to previous, similar requests to report on such issues as:

In each of these reports, analysis of the raw data gained through FOIA requests provided the nuance and details that are lacking in officially released statistics, Human Rights Watch has found.

Human Rights Watch sought anonymized, disaggregated data on each person apprehended by ICE since 2012. The data would shine a light on both who has been apprehended, detained and deported, and how ICE has carried out these arrests, detentions, and removals. None of the items requested present a burden for ICE to produce as every variable, or item, requested is recorded by ICE in its databases.

Human Rights Watch filed its initial FOIA request with ICE in October 2017. ICE failed to acknowledge receipt of the request within the mandated 30-day time frame. It ultimately sent a letter acknowledging receipt in December 2017, but did not provide a determination or other response to the request. Since then, ICE has failed to provide Human Rights Watch with any additional response.

Human Rights Watch filed letters demanding a substantive response from ICE in April and September 2018, but received no response. ICE changed the FOIA request status in its online records to “Closed” on September 13, 2018, without providing Human Rights Watch any notification or reasoning.

Human Rights Watch has sought greater transparency from ICE in other areas, particularly with regard to deaths in detention. On November 27, 2018, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to both houses of Congress urging them to reject any increase in appropriations that will exacerbate serious rights violations in the existing immigration enforcement system. Human Rights Watch urges members of Congress to put forward appropriations that will enhance transparency, due process, accountability, and fair treatment of everyone subject to deportation proceedings.

Human Rights Watch has also cited numerous abuses by ICE, such as its failure to abide by reporting requirements on deaths in detention or its failure to make a public list of detention facilities, as it has urged Congress to cut funds for enforcement and detention operations and require stronger oversight mechanisms to hold DHS accountable.

“The ongoing failure of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security to provide data that we know they have is sadly consistent with its lack of transparency on many fronts,” Root said. “The agency should already be releasing this data to the public, and it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to force disclosure.”