(June 1, 2020) - A nonprofit immigration organization says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are unlawfully withholding records of how the agencies are handling the novel coronavirus outbreak in their detention facilities.
American Immigration Council v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., No. 20-cv-1196, motion for preliminary injunction filed, (D.D.C. May 12, 2020).
The American Immigration Council filed a motion for a preliminary injunction May 12 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to order DHS and ICE to produce documents the group requested under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C.A § 552.
The group sued the federal agencies May 7, alleging they failed to properly respond to a March request for the records.
Suit: Detainees face heightened COVID-19 risk
The AIC, which describes itself as an organization “established to … advocate for the fair and just administration of our immigration laws,” alleges ICE has underreported the number of detainees who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
According to the complaint, ICE is holding around 32,000 people in custody, and as of May 6 it confirmed that 674 detainees at 38 facilities and 39 ICE employees at 13 facilities had tested positive for the virus.
The nonprofit group alleges the actual numbers could be higher because some deportees tested positive once they reached their home countries.
After news reports and ICE public statements revealed these infections, the AIC filed a March 19 FOIA request seeking protocols and guidelines the agencies are using to address the virus threat, the suit says.
The nonprofit argues the request qualifies for expedited processing under FOIA because the public has the right to the information.
”Without better understanding concrete steps ICE has taken and plans to take to address the spread of the virus … the level of danger to the health and safety of detained individuals remains largely unknown,” the group said.
FOIA requires agencies to provide requested information or reasons they cannot do so within 20 days, or 10 days for expedited requests, the complaint says.
The suit seeks a court order mandating procurement of the documents or an explanation why the agencies are exempt under FOIA, along with payment of AIC’s attorney fees and other costs.
AIC lawyers Emily Creighton and Claudia Valenzuela are representing the group.