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As the DHS faces lawsuits left and right, detained immigrants continue to be silenced. Photo: SLABBERS/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
As the DHS faces lawsuits left and right, detained immigrants continue to be silenced. Photo: SLABBERS/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

As ICE continues to withhold records, the LA Times and ACLU file lawsuits

The Department of Homeland Security was the second-most sued agency in 2019, according to the FOIA Project. 

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For the better part of 2020, public health experts have warned that immigrant detention centers would be COVID-19 hotspots.

But early warnings didn’t prompt the Department of Homeland Security or ICE to improve conditions at their facilities. Reports actually revealed conditions — some independent from COVID-19 — remained far from improvement, and also shocked the nation with some of the allegations that have surfaced. 

Beginning in June, the Los Angeles Times submitted five requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking detainee complaint data, investigation reports, and other materials from ICE, and the DHS. According to The Times, both agencies have failed to provide the requested records. 

This resulted in The Times suing the DHS on Dec. 1, in a further push for the release of records amid mouting allegations  of sexual abuse, inhumane conditions, and harrassment at ICE’s immigration detention centers. 

“Unless reporters and members of the public flip the switch, we remain in the dark about what government officials are doing.” said said Selina MacLaren, an attorney working to represent The Times in the lawsuit. 

The LA Times isn’t the only organization suing the DHS on multiple fronts.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the District of Columbia also sued the DHS last month to obtain documents they had similarly requested under FOIA. 

The documents, according to the ACLU, relate to ICE’s response to COVID-19 under the Trump administration. 

On Dec. 2, the ACLU sued again, demanding DHS, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE release records on the Trump administration’s reported purchase of cellphone data to track the locations of immigrants.

“It’s critical we uncover how federal agencies are accessing bulk databases of location data and why. There can’t be accountability without transparency,” the ACLU wrote on Twitter.

The DHS was named in 144 FOIA lawsuits in 2019,making it the second-most-sued federal agency after the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the FOIA Project.

In 2020, the DHS may beat it’s own record. The reports for which the agency is being sued speak for themselves. 

The Time’s lawsuit followed a recent investigation that uncovered hundreds of allegations by detainees in California of violence and abuse. Very few of the allegations resulted in criminal charges, and a lack of accountability that only reinforces ICE’s actions. 

In September, a year-long investigative report released by the Democratic-led House Homeland Security Committee, exposed ICE’s shortcomings in regards to its treatment of migrant detainees.

The report came after a whistleblower complaint by a nurse at a facility in Georgia, alleging detained women faced unwanted hysterectomies under ICE, among other cases of medical misconduct.

In Florida, Muslim advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice released a letter on Aug. 19, reporting they had received alarming reports that ICE and its officers have been serving “pork or pork-based products to Muslim detainees.”

The severity of allegations prompted the ‘Squad’ and other top Democrats to send a letter asking that the United Nations open an investigation into multiple allegations of abuse by the DHS, requesting an international response.

With lawsuits coming left and right, it's unclear whether the DHS will respond with the mounting pressure, and how soon that will be. 

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