Friday, September 22, 2023
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Judge Refines Order on Immigration Database

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge on Monday clarified her ruling on nonprofit advocacy groups' requests for information about an allegedly error-prone Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that created fingerprint databases the agency uses for deportation.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law had filed suit after the government rejected their requests under the Freedom of Information Act for records on ICE's Secure Communities program.

Last month, the government sent the plaintiffs five unsearchable PDF files with just under 3,000 pages of documents stripped of identifying data, which merged electronic and paper files.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin told the parties to resolve their dispute outside of the courts. In Monday's new opinion, Scheindlin laid out the formats in which the government must turn over the documents.

The defendants are the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the FBI and the Office of Legal Counsel.

The plaintiffs said that Secure Communities was implemented nationwide "without sufficient transparency, oversight, or public engagement."

"Secure Communities subjects people interacting with the criminal justice system to an automatic and indiscriminate civil immigration investigation," the groups' complaint states. "Through Secure Communities, ICE identifies large numbers of people for deportation by cross-checking fingerprints submitted through criminal FBI fingerprint queries against error-prone civil immigration databases."

When the first complaint was filed, on April 27, 2010, Secure Communities was in its pilot phase, in 145 jurisdictions; plans had been laid to expand it into every jail in the country by 2013, the plaintiffs said.

The plaintiffs requested records to get "information necessary to facilitate meaningful public discourse and increase government transparency."

Scheindlin told the government to turn over the documents by e-mail and to identify electronic files with file names, modified dates and other metadata.

"Whether or not metadata has been specifically requested - which it should be - production of a collection of static images without any means of permitting the use of electronic search tools is an inappropriate downgrading of the ESI," the ruling states, referring to the acronym for electronically stored information. "That is why the government's previous production - namely, static images stripped of all metadata and lumped together without any indication of where a record begins and ends - was not an acceptable form of production. The government would not tolerate such a production when it is a receiving party, and it should not be permitted to make such a production when it is a producing party."

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