(CN) — For six years, a pair of university researchers have been collecting government records to publish an influential analysis of immigration enforcement actions. After the last election, however, things changed.
“It’s pretty much made it at a standstill because they’re holding a good part of the data that we post,” said Susan Long, one of the co-founders of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Courthouse News spoke to Long over the phone Wednesday regarding the federal complaint she and fellow Syracuse professor David Burnham filed on May 9.
Long and Burnham’s data-research center has been producing reports looking into federal staffing, enforcement and spending since its inception in 1987. Starting in 2011, TRAC used the Freedom of Information Act to hunt down a class of records that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to detain immigrants.
ICE agents use Form I-247, more commonly known as the immigration-detainer form, if they need help transferring an immigrant from local to federal law-enforcement custody. The form asks that local police keep the subject of the request up to 48 hours beyond the person’s eligible release date.
Just 10 days shy of the inauguration of President Donald Trump, however, the professors say ICE started withholding “large swaths of data.”
Trump has vowed as president to ramp up the use of detainers, and threatened to revoke federal funding for the growing number of local jurisdictions known as “sanctuary cities” that refuse to comply with them.
Long called the detainer data “central” to this debate.
“It’s leaving the public mostly in the dark,” the professor said in an interview.
Filed with a federal judge in New York’s Northern District, Long’s lawsuit warns that ICE’s information blackout threatens a resource relied upon by a large number of news organizations, as well as lawmakers, scholars, businesses and public-interest groups.
“Prompt release of these public records is important because of the heightened and immediate public interest in this information, as evidenced by, among other things, more than a hundred news, legal and scholarly articles published in the first 100 days of the Trump administration alone citing to the TRAC database on immigration enforcement actions,” the complaint states.
Just in the past month, according to the group’s website, news articles based on TRAC’s research have been published by Quartz, USA Today, the International Business Times, a Fox News affiliate and Bloomberg.
One report TRAC’s released this past January compared the Obama administration’s use of ICE detainers against that of his predecessor.
“Detainers were infrequently used during the first five and half years of former President George W. Bush’s Administration,” the report says. “However, during the last two years under Bush, detainer usage increased rapidly and continued to grow when President Barack Obama assumed office.”
A representative for ICE declined to comment on the complaint.
Long and Burnham are represented by Mona Houck, an attorney with the Manhattan firm Miller Korzenik Sommers Rayman.
Long is an associate professor of managerial statistics at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Burnham is a journalist and associate research professor at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.