Immigrant Rights Attorneys Sue DHS and ICE for Information on Terror Tactics Used in Arrests

WASHINGTON – The Immigrant Defense Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit today against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to demand access to arrest records and related information for a wave of ICE raids in sanctuary cities across the U.S. this year. 

The lawsuit seeks to compel both government agencies to release policy guidances, memos, and trainings as well as records regarding the process ICE uses to determine “targets” pertaining to “Operation Palladium,” an aggressive immigration surveillance and policing initiative that advocates say has dramatically increased the use of force and other aggressive tactics by ICE since it began in early 2020. ICE and DHS refused to release information on the program in response to an urgent FOIA request, filed in June 2020, over concerns about the program. The lawsuit filed today seeks a court order to immediately release the requested documents.

“Since this administration came to power almost four years ago, they have made it a priority to attack and try to destroy immigrant communities,” said IDP Interim Executive Director Mizue Aizeki. “‘Operation Palladium’ is clearly another bullying tactic by the federal government against cities like New York due to policies that protect immigrants. In February and March of this year, ICE policing in NYC included not only intensive surveillance of immigrants and their loved ones but also an escalation in violent tactics by ICE. This included ICE agents shooting a witness during a raid, and brandishing an assault rifle in the street and inside an apartment building. We filed the FOIA to shed light on how DHS and ICE policing tactics threaten safety and stability in our cities. As the public, we have a right to know this information to protect our communities.”

“Operation Palladium” was implemented in “sanctuary” cities across the country in February 2020. As part of the operation, the Trump administration has deployed Customs and Border Protection agents – including officers from BORTAC, a militarized unit normally deployed at the southern U.S. border – in cities to support ICE in their surveillance and arrest of immigrants. The New York Times described Operation Palladium as a “supercharged arrest operation,” and today’s lawsuit alleges it has led to a drastic increase in the extent and aggression of ICE arrest practices – including the shooting of a bystander during an ICE arrest in February. Attorneys say the program was coupled with the Trump administration’s use of DHS personnel and technology to surveil the Movement for Black Lives protests in many cities.

In the first 11 weeks of 2020, Immigrant Defense Project has reported a 400 percent increase in the number of sightings of ICE agents and of arrests as compared to what was reported in the last 11 weeks of 2019, and since the beginning of this year, thousands of immigrants have been arrested by ICE at their homes, on the street, and at their workplaces. This escalation of immigration policing has continued despite the global COVID-19 pandemic and the dangers it poses to people that ICE refuses to release from jails and detention centers despite the rapid spread of COVID at these facilities. IDP and the Center for Constitutional Rights say that information about the policies, procedures, and data regarding Operation Palladium is of vital public interest, given concerns about privacy and other constitutional rights, as well ongoing debates about funding for DHS and ICE.

“ICE and DHS have refused to produce even one document regarding their surveillance and enforcement tactics and policies,” said Ian Head, coordinator of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Open Records Project. “It should not take a court order to force federal agencies to meet their obligations under FOIA, particularly on topics of urgent importance to the public.”

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.