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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Steals Obama’s Thunder on Immigration

MANHATTAN (CN) - Hours before President Barack Obama's planned announcement about repairing the nation's "broken" immigration system, a federal judge forced government lawyers to finalize their schedule for releasing information that they fought three years to conceal.

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security locked up a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government for stonewalling records requests about its detention centers.

The government's use of "prolonged immigration detention" kept people "held for months, if not years - without adequate procedures in place to determine whether their detention is justified," the ACLU alleged.

Two years into the litigation, U.S. District Judge Paul Berman overruled claims of law enforcement privilege in a Sept. 9, 2013 opinion ripping Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "historically troublesome practices."

Berman ordered the government to tell the ACLU what it wanted to know about detainees' criminal histories, detention facilities, travel statuses, medical histories and national security concerns - without revealing their personally identifying information.

The information that the ACLU wanted is "clearly in the public interest," Berman found.

And enabling the ACLU to "shed further light on ICE's detainee practices and procedures (and strengths and inadequacies) would appear to far outweigh any potentially implicated privacy interest," he added in the opinion.

While Berman ordered production of the records by Nov. 3, 2013, the government chose to repeatedly appeal the decision rather than meet the deadline.

Having lost that bid, the government returned to court on Thursday morning to announce that a final deal had been reached.

Berman noted in court that Thursday's proceedings fell on the same day the Obama administration plans to issue executive orders on immigration reform.

While Beltway insiders have scrutinized the potential political fallout of Obama's use of executive power, the President has defended his decision by citing the need to break through the gridlock of an obstructionist Congress. The president will make his case in a televised address at 8pm tonight.

With all eyes on Washington, the New York courthouse was empty when the Obama Administration's three-year fight came to an anti-climatic end.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Pelligrino informed the judge that the parties narrowed the records related to 679 immigrants.

While he noted that prior records requests had been delayed by "two hurricanes" and a "government shutdown," Pelligrino added that the government would try to complete the production by March 15, 2015.

Berman signed the six-page final stipulation shortly after the hearing.

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