For Immediate Release:
June 8, 2017
Susan B. Long or David Burnham (315) 443-3563
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TRAC Challenges ICE's Withholding of Information on Secure Communities Program

Agency Violations Concern FOIA Requests for ICE Data on Deportations

Syracuse, NY, June 8—The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has filed yet another suit in federal court today under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) charging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with unlawfully withholding records on deportations. The new suit follows one filed on May 9. Both actions concern aspects of ICE's unusually broad immigration control efforts and its sometimes contentious interaction with local law enforcement agencies.

An even earlier TRAC suit has already been submitted for a decision and is waiting for the court's ruling.

The records involved in this suit track ICE deportations under its Secure Communities Program. Under Executive Order 13768 signed by President Trump on January 25, 2017, Secure Communities was reinstated and replaced the Priority Enforcement Program that President Obama had initiated. Under President Trump, the agency announced that Secure Communities and the issuance of ICE detainers were to be cornerstones of its immigration enforcement strategy. The agency further threatened local jurisdictions with the withholding of federal funds if they did not cooperate with this program.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Susan B. Long and David Burnham, co-directors of TRAC, a non-partisan research data center at Syracuse University's Newhouse and Whitman Schools. For years, in response to its regular requests for updated agency records, TRAC had received detailed case-by-case data on each ICE deportation under Secure Communities and the Priority Enforcement Program. The data had allowed TRAC to publish many widely relied upon research reports, as well as to create and provide online databases that allow the public to trace the focus and impact of the government's use of detainers month-by-month under these programs on actual deportations.

In January of this year, ICE began refusing to disclose much of the information produced in its previous responses to TRAC's FOIA requests. Among the information now being withheld, for example, is information on whether deportations actually result from its use of detainers under Secure Communities, on how and when ICE took individuals into custody, and on the full details for any criminal history for those who were deported.

While FOIA requires federal agencies to release any requested records unless the information is covered by a specific exemption in the statute, ICE does not claim the withheld information is exempt from disclosure. It simply asserts past releases were discretionary and it is no longer willing to make these details available to the public.

"While the current administration promised to provide full transparency for its immigration enforcement efforts," co-director Long said in a statement, "ICE is actually doing exactly the opposite and withholding basic information it used to release." This undermines FOIA's very purpose: to ensure an informed citizenry for the proper functioning of a democratic society.

Because of ICE's refusal to release these and other details on actual deportations, the government has prevented TRAC from providing the public with vital up-to-date information on its enforcement activities, and the role Secure Communities actually plays. A major focus of TRAC's work over the past decade has been documenting federal immigration enforcement practices. Long and Burnham are represented in the suit on a pro bono basis by attorneys Sean Sherman and Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.