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The American Immigration Council filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security and its two primary immigration enforcement agencies—U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—requesting information about the obscure network of databases, information systems, and data sharing methods that are largely shielded from public view.
The lawsuit seeks to uncover records regarding ICE and CBP databases to better understand how these agencies store enforcement data. The suit also seeks to enable individuals to file targeted, accurate records requests when pursuing information about immigration enforcement practices.
ICE and CBP hold a wealth of information that is largely unattainable to the public, despite the government’s responsibility to be open and accountable. Individuals must pursue records through FOIA requests—one of the few tools available to obtain information that the government does not proactively disclose. Each year, ICE and CBP collectively receive more than 100,000 FOIA requests.
Requesters are not able to successfully obtain information through FOIA requests without a clear understanding of the complicated web of databases and record-keeping systems that these agencies maintain. As a result, important data and information about ICE and CBP enforcement practices remain out of reach.
“Since the creation of DHS in 2003, the federal government has spent an estimated $333 billion on the agencies that carry out immigration enforcement. Despite this enormous commitment of government resources, immigration enforcement agencies continue to prevent the public from efficiently obtaining critical information from government databases. The government is accountable to the people and these actions warrant public scrutiny,” said Tory Johnson, transparency project manager at the American Immigration Council. “Disclosure of the requested information will advance public awareness and understanding of the operations of our nation’s immigration enforcement agencies. The public needs this information to better understand how the U.S. immigration system works, engage in constructive conversations around immigration, and hold officials accountable.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges the failure of DHS, CBP, and ICE to release information—in response to FOIA requests submitted in March 2021—on:
- Lists of all ICE and CBP databases.
- CBP’s Corporate Data Dictionary, which includes standard terms and definitions used in CBP data.
- ICE Law Enforcement Systems and Analysis Division presentations on ICE databases.
- Tables, fields, and definitions related to the Enforcement Integrated Database.
A copy of the complaint is here.