Trump Administration Surveilled Migrant Family Separation Protests

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Immigrant rights groups obtained a trove of government documents Monday that detail how the Trump administration monitored protests and attempted to counter critical news coverage of its family separation policy by claiming it was designed to combat human trafficking.

As demonstrations against the separation of migrant children and their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border proliferated last year, the administration tracked more than 600 such events that took place on June 30, 2018 across the nation and abroad, according to Department of Homeland Security documents.

The American Immigration Council, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Women’s Refugee Commission, and Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project obtained the collection of more than 600 pages of government documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among the documents is a list of the June 30 demonstrations, compiled by a private cybersecurity firm called LookingGlass, which works with the department.

An official with LookingGlass said in an email to federal immigration officials a day before the protests that the list was compiled at a Cyber Threat Center.

The list, which was later shared with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, included logistical information about each demonstration and its corresponding Facebook Event link.

There are also emails exchanged between ICE officials throughout June 2017 which show that the agency planned to detain – under the auspices of combating smuggling operations – parents and guardians of migrant children who travelled unaccompanied to the U.S.

Katie Shepherd, an attorney at the American Immigration Council, said in a statement Monday that the documents demonstrate the administration’s preoccupation with mitigating critical news coverage rather than focusing on reuniting families.

“The American public deserves to know the extent to which the government monitored protesters and other members of the public, including advocates and lawyers who were scrambling to respond to the administration’s zero tolerance policy, locate separated families, and assist with reunification,” Shepard said.

Katharina Obser with the Women’s Refugee Commission said in the statement that the Trump administration’s family separation policy has deeply traumatized migrants.

“That federal agencies knew of this trauma and yet chose to disregard it in the name of an abhorrent deterrence strategy is unconscionable,” Obser said. “There is still so much more we need to fully uncover to understand what this administration did and didn’t do to inflict and subsequently address the harm caused by its family separation policies, but these documents re-emphasize that we must hold them to account.”

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The revelations come as the department’s acting secretary Kevin McAleenan is set to testify Tuesday before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and as lawmakers consider which candidate should head the agency.

In its response to the FOIA request, the department included applications from law enforcement agencies for funding for anti-human trafficking operations. The Manchester New Hampshire Police Department requested over $620,000 in such funding.

The police department attached letters of cooperation with anti-human trafficking efforts from the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials have scrutinized the practice of private companies sharing information about an individual’s status with federal immigration officials

A 2018 investigation by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson found that seven Motel 6 locations within the state unlawfully shared more than 80,000 guests’ personal information with ICE agents over a period of two years.

The hotel chain reached a $12 million settlement after the state determined its action violated the Consumer Protection Act by voluntarily sharing guest information without knowledge or consent.

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