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ACLU Nails Immigration on Records Production

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Immigration and Customs Enforcement may have withheld records about an immigration raid on a Southern California factory, a federal judge ruled.

The American Civil Liberties Union says ICE agents arrested 43 workers during a raid on the Terra Universal factory in Fullerton in June 2010. Workers who admitted to being undocumented were handcuffed, and the government barred defense attorneys from the federal building in Santa Ana where the workers were held on the day of the raid. 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 allegedly arrested former Terra Universal employee Osfel Andrade Castillion at his home in Anaheim. Castillion is one of four plaintiffs named in the ACLU class action.

Trying to verify whether ICE follows a policy to target employers of undocumented workers, rather than the workers themselves, the ACLU demanded a slew of records from the government.

The ACLU filed a federal complaint against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security late last year after the agencies produced no documents.

ICE eventually released 2,126 pages of records, which it said represented a reasonable search under the Freedom of Information Act.

The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge Otis Wright refused to grant the motion as to ICE.

Though ICE engaged in a sufficient search for records, it could have done more, according to the ruling.

The ACLU had provided "ample" evidence of incomplete or inconsistent search terms as ICE officials searched for relevant documents, Wright wrote.

"Plaintiff's countervailing evidence casts substantial doubt as to the sufficiency of ICE's search," the decision states.

It is also "unclear" if the agency was justified in redacting certain documents, the judge said.

"Both plaintiff and the court are entitled to information to properly evaluate the propriety of the asserted redactions," Wright wrote. "In short, review of the record raises 'substantial doubt' as to the adequacy of the search, particularly in view of positive indications of overlooked materials."

Though the public interest group also claimed that ICE improperly denied it fee waivers, the judge said this was a moot point.

Wright nevertheless granted Homeland Security summary judgment after finding that its search for records was reasonable.

"Here, plaintiff requested records regarding Terra Universal, and set out specific subcategories," he wrote. "None of those categories concerned internal investigations of alleged DHS employee misconduct. And any general complaints of misconduct by the ICE employees involved in the enforcement action would likely be handled by ICE OPR, not DHS OIG. Thus, the court agrees with defendants that 'it was reasonable for DHS to conclude that DHS OIG was not likely to have responsive records.' And, for the reasons discussed above, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to DHS."

The judge denied the ACLU's cross-motion for summary judgment as to Homeland Security, and granted it as to ICE.

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