Immigrant Rights Groups Ask Federal Judge to Compel DHS Disclosures About Embattled Jail-Based Deportation Program

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We received the following media release from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON):

New York City – In response to the refusal of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide information about promised reforms to its controversial jail-based deportation program, immigrant rights groups asked a federal judge Monday to compel urgent disclosures required under the Freedom of Information Act. The move comes as President Obama’s history of broken promises on immigration and transparency is coming into sharper focus in his final months in office, and he seeks to turn attention to criminal justice reform.

In November 2014, DHS formally ended the disgraced Secure Communities (S-Comm) deportation program, relying on entanglement with local law enforcement, and announced a new program, the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP. Many of the details that led to the revolt against S-Comm were initially kept secret by the government and only uncovered as the result of prior FOIA litigation. Now DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) again seek to keep from public disclosure —for years— critical information about its modified jail deportation program even as evidence increasingly suggests that the new program suffers from the same fatal flaws that led to the termination of S-Comm, and as there are increased calls for police to cease actions undermining police-community relations.

Tom Fritzsche, clinical teaching fellow at the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Cardozo School of Law, stated: “The Obama Administration has refused to provide basic information about a program that has radically altered not only immigrants’ relationship with local police, but also local law enforcement’s relationship with ICE.”

In support of the motion to urgently release information, the organizations provided more than a dozen declarations from lawmakers, organizations, and victims of the divisive program. These statements detail the devastating impact of the program on individuals, families and communities. In one declaration provided to the court, Xochitl Hernandez, currently imprisoned and facing deportation in Adelanto, California, described being taken into custody by ICE after an arrest by the LAPD, even though she does not fit any of DHS’ stated deportation priorities.

Policymakers explained the pressure imposed by DHS on lawmakers to toe the line regardless of legitimate concerns, the utter lack of oversight, and DHS’ blatant violations of its own rules. Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García affirmed to the court that DHS “imposed public pressure” to urge his county to abandon a local policy intended to preserve family unity and protect against violations of the rights of immigrants.

New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca added, “It is very important that we as New Yorkers have accurate information about how immigration enforcement is operating in our city. As chair of the immigration committee, I have serious concerns that PEP is continuing to harm communities.”

“DHS’ refusal to provide even basic information regarding its jail deportation program brings to light two of President Obama’s biggest broken promises—his promise to pass immigration reform and his pledge to be the most transparent administration in history,” said Emi MacLean, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. She continued: “In reality, DHS under Obama has used coercion, misinformation, and deception to enlist local police as frontline immigration enforcers.”

“The President continues to boast that he is deporting ‘felons not families.’ This disregards the reality that felons have families,” said Angela Chan, policy director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. “PEP further serves to doubly burden immigrant families by fusing together the worst elements of our mass deportation and mass incarceration systems.”

“The Obama Administration needs to be held accountable for the transparency of its policies,” said Anthony Diana, Partner at Reed Smith LLP who is co-counsel in the case. “Policymakers should have the information they need to effectively establish policies regarding immigration and the criminal justice system. Local communities should be able to access information to protect their residents from the impact of such policies, particularly when there is a fear of potential constitutional violations.”

The filing Monday comes the week after the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported that DHS has failed to live up to its promises in the rocky implementation of PEP—heavily targeting people with no or minimal criminal history and relying disproportionately on requests that local police hold people in custody beyond their release dates, a practice which federal courts have found to violate the constitution under S-Comm. Additionally, California lawmakers are considering a bill, the Truth Act, designed in part to provide greater information to immigrants and communities impacted by the deportation program.

NDLON, et al. v. ICE, et al. was filed in January 2016 by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and the Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo School of Law. Reed Smith LLP is co-counsel. The complaint is available here.

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