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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Critics Wants New Deportation Scheme’s Stats

MANHATTAN (CN) - A large-scale deportation program that replaced the error-ridden Secure Communities program has been in place for over a year but much about it remains unknown, immigrant-advocacy groups claim in a federal complaint.

The complaint filed Tuesday seeks information on the Priority Enforcement Program, which the Department of Homeland Security launched in November 2014 to succeed the widely panned S-Comm system.

Abbreviated in the complaint as PEP, the new program uses a fingerprint database, connecting local law enforcement with federal law and immigration agencies.

When Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the "dragnet" switch, he noted that S-Comm had become "a symbol for general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws" since its 2008 launch.

By that point California, Connecticut and more than 350 localities had taken steps to limit their involvement with the program, according to the complaint.

"S-Comm devastated immigrant communities, led to widespread constitutional violations, and undermined public safety by driving a wedge between local communities and law enforcement," the complaint states.

For immigration advocates today, however, it remains unclear whether the new program, abbreviated in the complaint as PEP, overcomes S-Comm's failings or is merely S-Comm, rebranded.

The National Day Laborers Organizing Group says it requested government records on the new program in March 2015, joined by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and the Immigration Justice Center of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Finding the government's response inadequate, the groups filed suit Tuesday under the Freedom of Information Act.

"PEP and S-Comm sport many similarities, and as a result, it is likely that S-Comm's defects persist and taint PEP' s implementation and purpose," the complaint states. "Yet it is impossible to fully evaluate the scale and breadth of PEP without the records sought in plaintiffs' FOIA request."

The request had demanded "records related to policies, procedures, and objectives, data and statistical information, agency communications concerning PEP, individual records needed to compile important data, PEP's fiscal impact; assessments of PEP., complaint mechanisms, and oversight of PEP and the date of implementation of PEP."

In response, Homeland Security, the FBI and the Executive Office for Immigration Review produced five records totaling 35 pages, a plus link to an eight-page report online.

The plaintiffs say seven other agencies that received their request did not produce any documents at all.

"No defendant has conducted a reasonable search for responsive records as required by the FOIA," the complaint states.

With the exception of ICE and USCIS, the agencies all denied fee waivers for the request as well.

The National Day Laborers Organizing Group notes that their 2012 FOIA suit related to S-Comm succeeded in the release of "essential documents."

That case ultimately resulted in the production of thousands of documents related to S-Comm. The groups say similar types of documents related to PEP are being withheld now.

In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, the complaint takes aim at eight other agencies regarding their handling of the FOIA request.

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Markowitz from the Immigration Justice Center.

The Department of Homeland Security has not returned a request for comment.

ICE declined to comment on the suit, citing a policy regarding pending litigation."

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