For Immediate Release:
May 9, 2017
Susan B. Long, TRAC (315) 443-3563
David Burnham, TRAC (202) 518-9000
Mona Houck, MKSLEX (212) 752-9200
Terence Keegan, MKSLEX (212) 752-9200
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TRAC Challenges ICE's Abrupt Change in Disclosure Practices

Agency Violations Concern FOIA Requests for ICE Detainer Data

Syracuse, NY, May 9 — The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) charging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with unlawfully withholding records related to ICE's immigration enforcement actions and its interaction with other law enforcement agencies.

At issue are ICE's use of detainers. These are requests from ICE to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to hold immigrants in their custody and to turn them over to ICE for possible deportation. Under President Trump, the agency announced that it was making stepped up usage of detainers a cornerstone of its immigration enforcement strategy. The agency further threatened local jurisdictions with the withholding of federal funds if they failed to comply with ICE detainers.

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 ICE's use of detainers. 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 during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

However, starting abruptly in January 2017, 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, are any details of criminal records for the subjects of these detainers. Also being withheld is information on whether ICE actually took these individual into custody or ultimately deported them.

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.

"This withholding undermines the basic purpose of FOIA," co-director Long said in a statement. FOIA's purpose, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, is to ensure an informed citizenry which is essential to the proper functioning of a democratic society."

Because of ICE's refusal to release these and other details on detainer usage, the government has prevented TRAC from providing the public with vital up-to-date information on its enforcement activities. For example, TRAC is being prevented from updating its online free web-query tool. That tool is designed to allow the public to view all detainers as well as notices issued to each local law enforcement agency since FY 2003, month-by-month, and then trace what subsequently happens to these individuals.

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 Mona Houck and Terence Keegan at Miller Korzenik Sommers Rayman LLP.