For Immediate Release:
January 4, 2012
Susan B. Long, TRAC (315) 443-3563
David Burnham, TRAC (202) 518-9000
  TRAC Request of May 17, 2010 (PDF)
  ICE Response of December 20, 2011 (PDF)
  TRAC's January 4, 2012 Appeal (PDF)
  Help Support TRAC's FOIA Efforts
  Other TRAC FOIA Activities

Agency's Immigration Enforcement Claims Not Supported By Own Data

Syracuse, N.Y. — Case-by-case records provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that many fewer individuals were apprehended, deported or detained by the agency than were claimed in its official statements — congressional testimony, press releases, and the agency's latest 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

The ICE data was provided to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University in late December, almost two years — 582 days — after TRAC had requested it on May 17, 2010.

Details about the vast differences between the agency activities documented by the data and its public statements are laid out in a FOIA appeal filed by TRAC on January 4. The surprising size of the discrepancies, the TRAC appeal said, indicated that either "ICE has been making highly exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the level of its enforcement activities," or it is "withholding on a massive scale."

TRAC's appeal emphasized that this was not an inconsequential bookkeeping problem, noting "that the alleged failure of the federal government to enforce the immigration laws has been a hotly debated topic during both the Bush and Obama administrations."

"Thus, the agency's apparent inability to substantiate the level of its claimed enforcement activities is a very significant matter," the appeal continued. "Indeed it is central to the current public debate on federal enforcement policy in the ongoing presidential election campaign."

TRAC requested a formal agency investigation of the matter or that it be referred to the Office of Inspector General.

Intervention of FOIA Ombudsman and DHS Director of FOIA Operations

As the unlawful failure of ICE to provide the requested data continued well beyond the legal deadlines, TRAC engaged in numerous unsuccessful attempts to resolve the matter with agency officials and in late November of 2010 asked the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) for assistance in persuading the agency to act on our request. OGIS, located in the National Archives and Records Administration, was created by Congress in 2007 to serve as a FOIA "ombudsman" resolving conflicts between requesters and agencies. This approach was not very successful, and in mid-October 2011 James V.M.L. Holzer, the Director of Homeland Security's Public Liaison and Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, intervened in the case.

In its initial FOIA request in May 2010, TRAC asked for specific information about all individuals who had been arrested, detained, charged, returned or removed from the country for the period beginning October 1, 2004 to date. In its initial and incomplete response, however, ICE so far has only provided TRAC with information through FY 2005. The agency said it would provide detailed information about the more recent years later.

When compared with various public statements by the agency, however, TRAC's analysis of this limited case-by-case information provided found vast discrepancies. Among them: ICE statements claimed almost five times more individual apprehensions than revealed in the data, as well as 24 times more individuals deported and 34 times more detentions.

Data Release
FY 2005
ICE Public
FY 2005
Number ICE apprehended 21,339 102,034 4.8
Number ICE deported 6,906 166,075 24.0
Number detained by ICE 6,778 233,417 34.4

The failure of ICE to abide by the mandate of the FOIA in a timely way about its immigration enforcement actions during the five-year period covered by our May 2010 request starkly contrasts with the repeated transparency statements of President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and many other administration officials since they came to office almost three years ago.

And it also appears to be a part of a larger pattern. In a three-page letter dated September of 2010, for example, ICE informed TRAC that key statistical data it had previously provided us were now "unavailable" and that the agency without explanation, was unilaterally imposing a $450,000 FOIA processing fee. ICE also claimed that Syracuse University was not an educational institution. Earlier in the same year a sister agency in the Department of Homeland Security — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — demanded a $111,930 processing fee. While time consuming, these and other Administration feints, have not stopped TRAC from its two decades long campaign to obtain revealing information from ICE, USCIS, the IRS, the Justice Department and other agencies.