On May 1, 2018, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stating her support for the UWCHR’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) research:
“As an organization established by the Washington State Legislature, CHR relies on data collection and research to achieve their mission… I support this educational pursuit as well as the need for research and data collected by CHR. I urge the timely release of the FOIA information to the extent that the law permits.”
Since inaugurating a new project on Human Rights at Home in 2016, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights has submitted more than 30 FOIA requests to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Yet as Rep. Jayapal writes:
“FOIA requests that had been promised specific response dates are now several months overdue… Other cases…have been summarily closed on the argument that all records requested regarding ICE activities are exempt from disclosure.”
The specific cases of ICE/CBP stonewalling mentioned in Rep. Jayapal’s letter have important implications for human rights in Washington state:
Requests to ICE and CBP for information about pathways to deportation
On October 17, 2017, and January 8, 2018, the UWCHR filed requests to ICE and CBP for specific records that would enable us to understand who is being targeted for deportation, and how, in our state. ICE and CBP are the only agencies who possess this information, which would enable us to evaluate, for example:
- to what extent local government agencies collaborate in the identification and detention of immigrants (in possible violation of Constitutional prohibitions on arbitrary detentions and Gov. Inslee’s Executive Order 17-1);
- to what extent the identification of individuals stems from racial profiling;
- to what extent local policies like sanctuary ordinances are impacting federal immigration enforcement, and how;
- how frequently detentions occur outside courthouses, despite the objections of the Chief Justice of our state’s Supreme Court about the impact such practices have on access to justice.
CBP promised to deliver these records to UWCHR by February 21, 2018; we have received neither the records nor an explanation. ICE, on the other hand, chose to close the request altogether, stating instead that all records pursuant to this request are exempted in their entirety from disclosure. This sets a very troubling precedent, for if independent researchers are denied the ability to examine records describing who is being deported from our state and how, this effectively places ICE’s activity beyond the reach of meaningful civilian oversight.
Request for records from ICE about summary removals
On December 5, 2017, we requested information about cases in which individuals apprehended in our state were ordered removed without the opportunity to appear before a judge. It is important to understand the extent to which members of our community are being deported without benefit of due process. ICE estimated that it would deliver these documents to us by April 15, 2018, but has not done so.
In other cases, FOIA requests submitted by the UWCHR to agencies responsible for immigration enforcement have resulted in documents with unnecessarily extensive redactions. For example, one recent collection of documents on CBP apprehensions obscured even the locations within the state where stops took place, rendering them of limited utility.
Request to ICE for information about the use of solitary confinement at the NWDC
On September 18, 2017, the UWCHR filed a request of ICE for records on the use of segregation at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. These records would enable us to assess to what extent GEO is complying with its own policies on the use of solitary confinement – and to what extent these policies comply with international standards on confinement. Up until now, information about practices at the NWDC has leaked out in individual cases or anecdotal reports, but it is impossible to assess the systematic nature of these practices without a broader data set that captures all cases. Concerns about the punitive use of solitary at the NWDC have been raised as recently as February 2018; while that particular incident resulted in a lawsuit on behalf of an individual hunger striker, it’s important to be able to know how widespread such practices are. ICE estimated that it would deliver the documents to us by December 20, 2017, but we have yet to receive anything.
The UWCHR is grateful for Congresswoman Jayapal’s support for our work to examine immigration enforcement and its human rights implications in Washington state. Watch our Human Rights At Home project page for future updates on our FOIA requests and related research.