The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) filed a lawsuit on Friday against the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in connection with poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in immigrant detention centers. The lawsuit relies on the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. Section 552 and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. Section’s 2201 and 2202 to force the agencies to release relevant agency records.
In a public statement on Friday, the ACLU flagged that the detention centers were hotspots for the pandemic, resulting in the deadliest year for ICE in 15 years. Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, emphasized the fact that the humanitarian crisis at these facilities had not received the attention it deserved. She said:
The abuse, neglect, and degradation our clients regularly face in ICE custody have only worsened since the pandemic began: This year alone, we’ve seen allegations of sexual abuse, increased use of force, rampant use of solitary confinement, attempts by ICE to minimize its role in the deaths of detained people, and hunger strikes to protest the horrendous conditions. The decisions and policies that ICE uses to guide it during this pandemic are a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of detained people and the staff who work at these facilities. It is simply unacceptable that this agency thinks it can act with so little transparency and accountability.
According to the lawsuit, ACLU legally and properly requested the records from DHS and ICE and has not received the records requested. All of the records fall under accessible files according to the law established by FOIA. The two specific claims in the lawsuit are as follows: Claim 1 is for a violation of FOIA for failure to conduct adequate searches for responsive records. Claim II is another violation of FOIA for wrongfully withholding non-exempt responsive records.