The Biden government is resisting calls from a right-leaning legal organization, seeking detailed information about undocumented immigrants up for potential arrest or deportation, which includes their possible affiliations to terrorist, gang, or cartel groups. The government believes this could breach their privacy rights.
In 2021, America First Legal made a Freedom of Information Act request, wanting weekly summaries of planned enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. These actions required prior clearance before an arrest or deportation could be executed.
The new procedures stem from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) revised guidelines that narrow ICE’s focus mainly to recent entrants, public safety risks, and national security threats. The weekly summaries encompass personal details like names, residence locations, visa statuses, and potential affiliations to gangs, cartels, or terror groups.
DHS, in its response to America First Legal, withheld a lot of this personal data. The latter contested this in a U.S. District Court. DHS, on its part, is trying to keep the redactions intact. According to a recent court document, ICE argues that sharing detailed personal information wouldn’t really benefit the public but would infringe on individual privacy.
The organization emphasizes the importance of not revealing gang, cartel, or terrorist affiliations of the immigrants, due to privacy concerns. They further argue that such disclosures might expose law enforcement methodologies and strategies.
However, America First Legal disputes this, stating that ICE didn’t clarify which specific law enforcement method would be at risk. They believe that these records have political undertones rather than law enforcement objectives. The organization also believes that the public should be informed of potential gang links of those under scrutiny, prioritizing this over the individual privacy of the immigrants.
Gene Hamilton, Vice President and General Counsel of America First Legal, stated that the American populace should be aware of any criminal past or gang ties of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
The Biden administration has seen various legal hurdles concerning its ICE actions. A major case that questioned the guidelines was in the Supreme Court’s favor this year. DHS refrains from commenting on ongoing cases.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressed that these guidelines have allowed ICE to optimally channel its resources and efforts towards genuine threats to national and public safety.
This lawsuit by America First Legal is the newest in a series of attempts by conservatives and certain Republicans to gain more transparency from the administration about various issues, including the situation at the southern border and the administration’s approach to enforcement. Despite DHS officials defending their transparency efforts, Matt O’Brien of the Immigration Reform Law Institute mentioned challenges similar to America First Legal in obtaining information.
Former ICE Director Thomas Homan indicated he believes the reluctance to release certain data may be politically motivated to avoid potential embarrassment to the administration. He suggests that the data would reveal a decline in arrests of criminal immigrants compared to past years and sees this as the administration using privacy concerns to mask their inadequacies.