Photo: Secure Communities Documents to be Released
In the wake of protests and civil disobedience in Chicago and across the country criticizing the Obama administration’s Secure Communities program, immigrant advocates called on the government to turn over remaining documents about the program sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit and to halt the controversial program.
A batch of unredacted documents released by court order this week, which federal district court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin called “embarrassing,” included acknowledgement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys that they would have to “rewrite” memos on whether the program is mandatory for states and localities and revealed schisms between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the right of states and localities to opt out of the program.
In her order, Judge Scheindlin chided the agencies for going “out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities,” and pointedly stated that the “purpose of the [Freedom of Information Act] is to shed light on the operation of government, not shield it from embarrassment.”
The judge has not yet ruled on whether the government must release other documents relating to the legal authority to make Secure Communities mandatory. Strikingly, the government continues to attempt to withhold documents that shed light on that policy. ICE will be back in court today arguing it should be able to keep secret documents relating to the agency’s purported legal basis to impose S-Comm on unwilling states like Massachusetts, Illinois and New York.
The documents are being sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law with the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network.
One previously redacted email chain of over 100 pages shows the director of Secure Communities, David Venturella, dodging questions from Margo Schlanger, an important official from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL). When ordering release of this document, Judge Scheindlin observed that the exchange showed “clearly obfuscating” and “non-responsive” answers from ICE in response to a request for clarification from OCRCL about Secure Communities policy.
Another email chain from July 2010 discussing a draft response to Representative Zoe Lofgren’s letter requesting clarification on the agency’s opt-out policy indicates that the FBI was considering an opt-out option. The FBI had concerns that if no opt-out was allowed, states might consider not sending fingerprints to the FBI for other purposes. The email notes that “moving away from the mandatory stance” would require “S1” (Secretary Napolitano) and AG approval.
The back-and-forth and deception was clearly frustrating to ICE officials. In an angry email dated August 6, 2010, a Secure Communities employee comments: “We never address whether or not it is mandatory – the answer is written to sound like it is but doesn’t state it. It’s very convoluted – or is that the point? I’m all about shades of grey but this really is a black and white question…Is it mandatory? Yes or No. Ok, so not such an easy question to answer.”
The groups said they will continue to litigate this case to obtain the full information about S-Comm that the public is entitled to.