A group of immigration rights organizations filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and nine other federal agencies demanding transparency on a Department of Homeland Security deportation program.
As the Obama administration continues plans to deport Central American asylum-seekers
, these organizations say the ongoing deportations are largely fueled by DHS's "Priority Enforcement Program
The groups argue every step of the deportation efforts need to be disclosed to the public—yet details of everything that has been going on have not been released, according to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network
, which is part of the lawsuit.
More than 10 months ago, the immigration advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information Act to get PEP documents from ICE and the nine other federal agencies, including the FBI. NDLON says ICE refused to provide any, and, altogether, the 10 agencies merely issued five documents in response.
The federal complaint says:
Immigration reform and deportation policies are now constantly and heavily debated in national and local arenas. Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit because of Defendants' failure to satisfy their statutory obligations to provide information about government activities and because of the pressing need to effectively inform and educate the public about immigration law enforcement policy and practice.
Without knowledge about the federal government's immigration policy, the public cannot effectively engage in meaningful conversations about immigration reform, or respond to the federal government's assertions concerning its policies and practice.
Defendants have shrouded their immigration law enforcement policies in secrecy, shielding themselves from any public accountability. Defendants' actions directly violate the central objective of the FOIA.
PEP sets up guidelines for removal priorities, and allows for DHS to work closely with state and local law enforcement to target undocumented migrants who are felons and a threat to national security. PEP goes hand-in-hand with a 2014 memorandum
by DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson that also says felons are the top priority for deportation. However, also listed as a priority, are new migrants who entered the country after Jan. 1, 2014, and were denied asylum in the U.S. These migrants, such as the hundreds of asylum-seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who were recently apprehended,
are at the bottom of the list, but the memorandum still considers them a priority for removal.
"ICE is, once again, operating in secrecy. It's time for the nation's largest police force to come clean," said a statement by Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "PEP has failed to meet the bare minimum requirements for transparency and accountability."
In the lawsuit, the groups also cite concerns for constitutional violations, and argue programs like PEP strain relationships between the community and local law enforcement, saying it affects public safety since immigrants are afraid to report crimes, for instance—similar to the issues Arizona cities faced with SB 1070, which gave police departments the green light to verify a person's immigration status, walking a fine line into racial profiling and civil rights violations.
PEP's predecessor, a program known as "Secure Communities," or S-COMM
, " was mired in the same duplicity and double-speak that led to the largest-ever FOIA litigation in ICE history, and ultimately, the termination of the program," according to a statement by plaintiff Danelly Bello of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School
(Added after publication):
“As a matter of policy, ICE does not comment on matters pending litigation," according to an agency spokesperson.