Agency Withholding Violates the FOIA
Syracuse, NY, October 23 — "The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) challenging a ruling by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that its master repository of investigations and operations information is off-limits to the public.
TRAC's request specifically included complete records about "the dates and results" of every internal inspection made about the workings of the hundreds of detention facilities that the government maintains all over the country. The thousands of individuals held in these facilities — some for many months — have not been charged with a crime but are held as a result of alleged administrative violations of the immigration law.
TRAC is represented in this action — filed in Washington on Monday — by the Public Citizen Litigation Group.
The material sought by TRAC — in a proceeding that began at the administrative level in January 2010 — is stored in the Enforcement Integrated Database (EID), a system that is owned and operated by ICE. The EID records and maintains information related to the investigations and operations of ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and that agency's Office of Field Operations.
TRAC, a part of Syracuse University, has been using the FOIA for more than two decades in a largely successful effort to obtain comprehensive data about how the government enforces the law, collects taxes and litigates cases — including specific information about the sentences imposed by individual federal judges (see http://trac.syr.edu).
In addition to the information about the date and outcome of every internal investigation of the detention facilities administered by ICE that make up this massive holding system, for each detention facility TRAC is also seeking the exact name and type of facility, the contract under which it is being operated, the daily rates charged and the specific number by security level of adult males, females, juvenile male and female children and family units in each. (The data requested focused on the facilities and not the names or other personal information concerning the detainees.)
The Department of Homeland Security, in one document, said the EID sought by TRAC helps the government in "setting and evaluating law enforcement strategies, target goals, and training and development activities." In a December 2011 response to TRAC, however, ICE said that it had searched the records held by the agency's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and that its office "does not have the means to extract the data or any other aspect of [the] request." On administrative appeal, Susan Mathias, Chief of the Government Law Division, ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) ruled that ICE was not required to search or provide records from the agency's master data repository on agency activities (the EID).
Because the ICE detention facilities are so large and scattered and many of the detainees have no legal representation there is little effective oversight into the fairness and effectiveness of their operation."