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DHS sued for not disclosing memo recommending detention center closing

[JURIST] Several immigration and civil rights organizations filed suit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) [official websites] division for illegally withholding a memo recommending the closure of an Alabama immigration detention facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE].

The complaint addresses a 2016 Freedom of Information Act [backgrounder] request made by the plaintiffs for the CRCL to disclose the "Super-Recomendations Memorandum" addressed in the its fiscal year 2015 annual report [text, PDF] to Congress, released in June 2016. While the CRCL acknowledged possessing the requested information, it withheld the records in full pursuant to exemption 5 [FOIA guide, PDF] of the FOIA. Following an unsuccessful administrative appeal, this action was brought.

Within the DHS, the CRCL is responsible for ensuring that the department and its employees are in compliance with the law and not violating the civil rights and civil liberties of those affected by DHS policies. In doing so, it issues an annual report to Congress outlining allegations raised against the DHS and its employees regarding such violations, action taken by the DHS in response, and recommendations going forward. One category of recommendation the CRCL uses is a "Super-Recommendation Memorandum," which is

an avenue to inform Component leadership of areas where there has been no significant implementation of CRCL recommendations despite repeated follow-up, CRCL continues to receive complaint allegations on the issues raised in the recommendations, and the issues presented raise serious civil rights concerns.
In its fiscal year 2015 report and under the category "Super-Recommendation Memorandum," the CRCL identified an ICE operated detention facility in Alabama in which the CRCL "highlighted the seriousness of problems found in previous investigations, the continued receipt of additional correspondence raising similar concerns, and CRCL's belief that ... the prior recommendations are likely not being fully implemented." The CRCL went so far as to say the center should be shut down if the issues were not addressed and center brought up to adequate performance standards.

While the facility at issue has not been mentioned by name in the CRCL report, Public Citizen [advocacy website], a public interest advocacy organization representing the plaintiffs in this case, issued a press release [text] in which it states there is "no doubt that the specific facility concerned is the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden," Alabama.

The plaintiffs in this case include Adelante Alabama Worker Center, Detention Watch Network [advocacy websites] and three other nonprofit organizations. The complaint has been filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website].

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