After the federal government failed to release records under the Freedom of Information Act that would shed light on controversial – and potentially unconstitutional – immigration raids in 2016 that took more than 100 women and children from their homes and placed them in a Texas detention center before deporting many of them, the SPLC filed a federal lawsuit to obtain the records.
The complaint describes how the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency violated the public records law by failing to promptly release documents to the SPLC following a request on Jan. 7, 2016. The raids, which were executed earlier that month, targeted women and children from Central America living in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Many of the immigrants had been granted permission to remain in the United States, subject to certain conditions.
The raids were condemned by 146 members of Congress.
The SPLC believed that during the raids, agents gained entry to the immigrants’ homes by deception. Some said they were police officers looking for a suspect, showing a photo of an African-American man to the residents. Others claimed they only needed to take the immigrants from their homes long enough to examine electronic shackles they wore as part of an agreement with ICE that allowed them to remain in the country.
If an immigrant asked to see a warrant, the agents said to “be quiet,” according to the complaint. The women and children were taken to an immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas. Most of the immigrant families detained were deported.
The records sought by the SPLC would show how and why ICE pursued the 121 immigrants swept up by the raid. The raid’s impact nationwide was considerable. Trust between local law enforcement and immigrants eroded after the raids. Immigrants nationwide feared answering their door or going to work, school or church, according to the complaint.
Alston & Bird served as co-counsel on the case.