August 18, 2018; Seattle Times
With the aim of getting more information on the track record of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) is suing ICE in federal court in Seattle. HRDC has requested ICE court settlements records; ICE has refused to turn over that information. Also named in the suit is the parent agency of ICE, the Department of Homeland Security. The suit alleges violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This is not the first time HRDC and ICE have locked horns in federal court.
The center, which advocates on behalf of people held in US detention facilities, asked ICE in March to disclose any litigation filed against the agency and its employees since 2010. The request specifically asked for traffic-related cases that cost the government at least $50,000 and for other cases that cost the government $10,000 or more.
The complaint says ICE considered the request too broad and asked HRDC to narrow and clarify it. When the nonprofit declined, ICE did not process the FOIA request, determining it to be “vague, overbroad, and unduly burdensome.”
Deb Golden, an attorney for HRDC, said the information would help the nonprofit understand why records show the government has used more than $51 million in taxpayer money to defend DHS and ICE in court.
According to Deb Golden, an attorney for HRDC, the known amounts are the minimums, and the actual amounts could be much greater. Knowing the context for this government spending, she says, would be both revealing and helpful. But why? Just what will this information bring to light? If ICE and Homeland Security are using taxpayer funds to pay for lawsuits in cases of illegal deportation or wrongful death or injury under ICE detention, and those suits are of significant numbers and significant amounts of money, the questions being raised about the tactics and speed with which ICE operates may gain much more credibility.
A Newsweek article in May 2018 documented the abysmal record of ICE in wrongly detaining US citizens. According to the article, ICE has released close to 1,500 people from custody because they were found to be citizens. The Los Angeles Times, reviewing US Department of Justice records, found hundreds of additional cases in US immigration courts where US citizens were detained. In one astonishing case, a US citizen, Davino Watson, was wrongfully detained for 1,273 days.
On June 20, 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report entitled “Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention.” The report documents in detail the lack of adequate medical care and attention to those in detention, and the resulting ill health and in some cases, deaths. Its summary concludes:
ICE, the agency with authority over the United States’ sprawling system of immigration detention centers, has proven unable or unwilling to provide adequately for the health and safety of those it detains. Oversight and accountability mechanisms have too often failed, and the current administration’s proposal to weaken existing standards will further endanger lives. This is the third report in which our organizations have found that significant numbers of the deaths in detention are linked to inadequate medical care in detention.
There should be little wonder that there is litigation around just what ICE and Homeland Security have paid out in settlements to those they have wronged in deportations or physically harmed in detention. The fight to keep these cases wrapped in secrecy only heightens the sense that there is something to hide. A spokeswoman for ICE said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. But the question remains: Just what do they have to hide?—Carole Levine