Today, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its two sub-agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The lawsuit aims to hold ICE and CBP accountable for failing to respond lawfully to twelve requests for public information filed by Center researchers since 2017.
Working in partnership with grassroots communities and organizations across our state, UW Center for Human Rights researchers have conducted research to understand the human rights implications of federal immigration enforcement in our state. The information we have received raises concerns about human rights as fundamental as the right to due process, the right to equal protection, and freedom of speech for immigrant community leaders. As part of our research, we have filed hundreds of requests for public information of federal, state, and local government agencies. Many have provided us this information, as the law requires; but such transparency has not been forthcoming in the case of many of our requests to ICE and CBP.
This lawsuit highlights 12 such cases, in which our researchers sought information for human rights analysis and were denied. The rights concerns at issue in each request are different; for example, we are seeking records regarding the handling of grievances at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma; the sharing of information between Washington state’s Department of Licensing and ICE’s deportation officers; and the summary deportation of Washingtonians without access to a court of law. The agencies’ responses range from delivery dates that come and go without response, to the argument that because ICE is a law enforcement agency, its records are exempt from disclosure. Read the full complaint here.
We are fighting to access these records because understanding how our government works is a necessary part of any effort to improve human rights policy. It’s also a cornerstone of democracy. Training students to exercise their rights to engage with their government lies at the core of our university’s mission. And lastly, it is also part of our mandate as a Center for Human Rights legally mandated to inform the public — and our elected officials — on human rights concerns. While the technicalities of FOIA law may appear esoteric, the questions at the heart of this lawsuit touch on core principles of democracy: no branch of our government should be allowed to effectively serve as a secret police.
At a time of heightened concern about immigration policy and enforcement, it is absolutely critical to understand the policies our government has implemented at the local, state and federal level to handle immigration, and to examine the effects of these policies on the lives and liberties of all Washingtonians.