Pamplin Media Group
SALEM — Oregon has joined nine other states in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for failing to release public information detailing the detention and deportation of immigrants.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, claims that federal agencies have failed to respond to requests within a 30-day statutory deadline and are unlawfully withholding the records.
“We value transparency in Oregon — and we should demand the same from the federal government,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “Americans have the right to know how many immigrants have been arrested — and how many have been detained — and we should be able to review that critical information in an expedited manner.”
A coalition of 10 attorneys general in June submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The request sought records related to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, arrests and detentions of undocumented immigrants at certain “sensitive locations,” and ICE or CBP detainer requests and databases.
The DACA program, created by executive order of then-President Barack Obama, allows recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” to legally work and attend school in the United States.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September that the Trump administration plans to dismantle DACA in the next several months, unless Congress enacts it legislatively.
Federal agents have targeted undocumented immigrants at “sensitive locations” such as courthouses, schools, places of worship and hospitals, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wrote in the June request.
“The president’s executive orders and the steps taken by the Department of Homeland Security to implement these orders have generated new fears and uncertainties in immigrant communities across the country,” Healey wrote. “Families are afraid to send their children to school. People are avoiding necessary medical treatment. Victims and witnesses are not reporting crimes or cooperating with state and local law enforcement.”
The “chilling effect” of the new policies “undercuts public health, safety and welfare,” and the Trump administration’s lack of transparency surrounding enforcement is “exacerbating the fear in immigrant communities,” she wrote.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed receipt of the request in July. The agency noted that the statutory time limits for fulfilling the request could not be met because of “unusual circumstances,” and said it would be necessary to extend the deadline beyond the 10 days allowed in law, because authorities would need to collect data from field offices.
The lawsuit claims federal agencies have not denied the request but have withheld details on circumstances that prevent the disclosure. They also have failed to provide contact information for their FOIA liaisons to discuss the request or timeline for fulfilling it, according to the complaint.
The states sought the information because the federal government has intensified immigration enforcement and expanded “the scope of people targeted for enforcement,” according to the complaint. For example, arrests of immigrants have increased nearly 40 percent in just the first four months of 2017, according to an ICE report.
“It is critical for … states to understand the nature of federal immigration enforcement activities and the effects of these activities on the residents and law enforcement agencies of the respective states,” the complaint states.
The other states joining in the lawsuit are Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Oregon, along with several other states, sued the Trump administration in September to save DACA. That complaint alleges dismantlement of the program represents a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution by discriminating against DACA recipients of Mexican origin. So-called “Dreamers” from Mexico make up 78 percent of DACA recipients. The states also argue Trump’s executive order violates due process rights and harms states’ residents, institutions and economies.
The administration asserts the program is unconstitutional because it circumvents powers granted exclusively to Congress.