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ACLU Demands Info on Workplace Raids

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The ACLU is fighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement's demand for a $10,000 fee for records on an immigration raid on a Southern California factory.

The ACLU wants the Federal Court to waive the fees and force ICE, a creature of the Department of Homeland Security, to release documents. The ACLU wants to know if ICE is abiding by its putative policy to target employers of undocumented workers, rather than the workers.

The ACLU particularly wants to know if an employer may have sent ICE agents to a worker's home after the worker became a named plaintiff in a class action labor complaint.

"Despite the fact that disclosure of the information sought in the request is plainly in the public interest, and despite the fact that ICE and other federal agencies have routinely granted plaintiff FOIA fee waivers in the past, ICE denied plaintiff's request for a public interest fee waiver in this case. ICE further assessed $10,024 in search fees, of which it demanded plaintiff pay half up-front before it would begin processing the request. ICE has still not released a single document, much less begun the process of producing responsive documents," the complaint states.

The plaintiff's pro bono attorney Stacy Horth-Nuebert described denial of fee waivers to public interest groups as "a disturbing trend."

"Fee waivers are critical to the ability of public interest groups such as the ACLU of Southern California to perform their function as government watchdogs, and the fee waiver denials subvert both the letter and the spirit of the Freedom on Information Act," Horth-Nuebert said in an email to Courthouse News.

"We are hopeful that this suit will bring attention to this issue and remind both ICE and other agencies that the Freedom of Information Act must be applied as intended to 'ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed,'" Horth-Nuebert wrote, citing the 1978 case NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242.

The ACLU says it wants to determine whether ICE is following new worksite enforcement policies.

"On April 30, 2009, ICE announced that it was adopting new policies and guidance for worksite immigration enforcement actions. The announcement marked a departure from ICE's policies and practices during the last several years of the Bush Administration, which was widely condemned for its aggressive and often unconstitutional worksite enforcement tactics that resulted in the arrest, deportation and, in many cases, criminal prosecution of large numbers of undocumented workers, but only minor sanctions, if any, for the employers who hired them," the complaint states.

ICE agents arrested 43 workers during a raid on the Terra Universal factory in Fullerton, in June 2010. The company makes clean-room equipment for semiconductor and pharmaceutical companies.

According to the ACLU, workers who admitted to being undocumented were handcuffed, and on the day of the raid attorneys were denied access to a federal building in Santa Ana where the workers were held. Most of the workers were eventually released.

Months later, the ACLU filed a class action against Terra Universal, alleging violations of federal and state labor laws.

ICE agents then arrested former Terra Universal employee Osfel Andrade Castillion at his home in Anaheim. Castillion was one of four named plaintiffs in the ACLU class action.

"Immediately following his arrest, ICE agents told Mr. Andrade that they received information from a senior manager at Terra Universal indicating that he had not been arrested during the raid. There is reason to believe that Terra Universal may have reported Mr. Andrade to ICE in retaliation for his filing a lawsuit against the company," the complaint states.

The ACLU says that even when a fee waiver is granted by a judge, "the delay thwarts FOIA's promise of timely access to information about the government's current operations and activities."

"This pattern is all the more troubling given the Obama Administration's stated commitment to transparency in government," the complaint states.

Attorneys Thomas Nolan and Jason Russell are co-counsel with Horth-Nuebert. They want to see the documents.

ICE's Western Regional Communications Director Virginia Kice told Courthouse News that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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