ACLU and immigration justice groups submit requests for ICE detainee documentation before it is destroyed
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ACLU and immigration justice groups submit requests for ICE detainee documentation before it is destroyed

Following the approval of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) destruction of years’ worth of detainee documentation from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the National Immigration Law Center submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests Tuesday in an effort to preserve the documents.

NARA announced its plan to destroy these documents as far back as October 2015. However, after announcing its schedule for doing so in July 2017, it received a record number of public comments and extended its schedule to receive and respond to them. Over the next couple of years, NARA released two consolidated summaries of the public comments as well as its own response to them.

The ACLU does not oppose the general destruction of old documents, but it stated that it has submitted the FOIA request to preserve the “detention-related records from ICE that are scheduled to be deleted after short retention periods of only three to seven years.” Furthermore, the ACLU claims that the detention documents would be destroyed before some of the statute of limitations requirements would have expired for certain kinds of complaints, thus impeding justice. After a scathing review of ICE’s track record on providing humane conditions for detainees, the ACLU emphasized that the preservation of these documents is crucial to holding ICE accountable:

Our FOIA request is intended to ensure that records critical to this oversight and accountability do not disappear at ICE’s convenience. But ultimately, we hope that Congress is watching — because it will take lawmakers’ intervention to fully protect ICE detention records in a systematic, lasting manner from an agency bent on brutalizing people in its custody and then getting away with it.

Similarly, the American Immigration Council requested documents from as far back as 2003 in an effort to stay their destruction. They specifically discussed the responses issued by the NARA claiming that many of the documents need not be permanently stored despite their modern importance because of their lack of historical significance. One of the primary concerns of the groups is the destruction of documents regarding detainee deaths, investigations into sexual assault and abuse, and complaints submitted by detainees regarding their medical treatment.

The government has 20 business days to respond to FOIA requests, either by providing the requested documents, denying the requests, or notifying the requesting parties of a need for more time due to the complexity of the document production.