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SPLC wins big victory in effort to shed light on 2016 ICE raids

A federal court ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the SPLC.

The order requires the agencies to disclose some documents – and complete an adequate search for more – concerning raids they conducted on the homes of immigrants in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas that placed 121 women and children into a Texas detention center in January 2016.

The SPLC filed the records request within days of the arrests, seeking information about the warrants that were used to authorize them, among other matters. After the SPLC did not receive the complete records for more than a year, it filed a complaint in April 2017, arguing that DHS and ICE had failed to release them, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

The court agreed. In its ruling, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia ordered DHS and ICE to comply with the records request by Feb. 16, 2018.

“This victory is a major win for government accountability and transparency,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director of the SPLC. “U.S. District Judge Pannell called DHS’ failure to conduct a sufficient search of its records ‘troubling,’ noting, among other things, that the failure to disclose required field operations forms was a ‘glaring omission.’

“The court’s holding reminds us all that the Department of Homeland Security has to abide by the Freedom of Information Act, and now it must demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that it has made an adequate effort to do so,” Graybill said. “Being able to feel safe in the privacy of our homes is something most Americans cherish. We have the right to know what steps ICE is taking when it executes home raids that abridge that privacy, and the court’s decision takes us one step closer to vindicating that right.”

The court stated in its ruling that ICE, in its response to the SPLC records request, did not conduct a proper search of its records concerning the warrants that were issued for the arrests.

“Here, the plaintiff points out that the defendants produced no copies of judicial or administrative warrants despite the fact that all officers who conducted the raid were instructed to carry administrative warrants of removal and administrative warrants of arrest during the raids in question,” the court wrote. “More troubling is that the search terms did not include the word ‘warrant.’ Furthermore, the defendants produced no records reflecting consent to enter homes despite training sessions of officers instructing them to document facts of consent. The absence of these documents in the defendants’ production demonstrates that the search was inadequate.”

To hear stories from the women swept up in the ICE raids, see the SPLC’s report, Families in Fear.