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Washington, March 12, 2021ICE cannot destroy records of sexual abuse and assault, death reviews, detainee segregation files and other records it planned to dispose of, a federal judge ordered today in a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, American Historical Association and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

The three groups sued the National Archives and Records Administration for approving ICE’s plan to destroy records without addressing significant public comments, disregarding NARA’s own policies and failing to consider accountability and research interests in preserving the records permanently.

Judge Amit Mehta granted summary judgment on the challenged aspects of ICE’s records destruction plan, writing, “NARA’s approval of the schedule was arbitrary and capricious on the grounds that NARA failed to evaluate the research value of the ICE records and that NARA failed to address significant and relevant public comments.” The court thus invalidated “NARA’s approval of the ICE Disposition Schedule as to the Sexual Abuse and Assault Files, ERO Death Review Files, Detainee Segregation Case Files, Detention Monitoring Reports, and DRIL Records and remands those portions of the Schedule to NARA for further consideration.”

“This is an incredible ruling for transparency,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said. “To destroy records revealing abuse, rights violations and even deaths in detention would further obscure a system already severely lacking in oversight and transparency. There have been too many abuses documented in our immigration detention system, but the country cannot fix these problems without knowing what has happened.”

NARA received over 23,000 comments, a record-breaking number for the agency, opposing the plan. This is not a victory just for the three groups who brought the lawsuit but for the broad coalition of members of Congress, civil rights and immigrant advocates, historians, researchers, archivists and more who put pressure on NARA to keep the records from being destroyed.

“Today’s ruling ensures ICE and NARA will be held accountable for their failure to address significant public comments in their decision to destroy records that would all but erase documentation of harm to detainees,” Bookbinder said. “We hope this will usher in a sea change from the last administration’s extreme move toward secrecy and destruction of records.” 

Click here to read the decision.