Since 2017, the UWCHR has filed hundreds of requests for public information useful to understanding the human rights consequences of federal immigration enforcement in our state. Under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we’ve sought records from federal agencies involved in immigration enforcement (predominantly ICE and CBP); under Washington state’s Public Records Act, we’ve requested records from dozens of state and local government agencies.
We are fighting to access these records because understanding how our government works is a necessary part of any effort to formulate human rights policy. While grassroots organizations can document what’s happening based on accounts from those affected by raids or detentions, they often lack information about how government agencies are making determinations about whom to target and how, or which institutions play which roles in the process. And knowing these details is essential: to design better practices and promote accountability for abuses, it’s imperative to not just to react to individual anecdotes of bad outcomes, but to understand what structures and practices produce systematic problems (or, conversely, promote protection of human rights).
Public understanding of the mechanisms of government is also a cornerstone of democratic life; towards that end, access to information is increasingly conceptualized as a human right in and of itself. While the technicalities of FOIA law may appear esoteric, the questions at the heart of this effort touch on core rights principles: should some branches of law enforcement serve as a secret police?
Unfortunately, both ICE and CBP have responded to our FOIA requests in ways that thwart, rather than advance, understanding of how our government works. At a time of growing public concern about immigration, we remain committed to finding out and sharing, the truth of what our government is doing to enforce its borders. That’s why, on September 21, 2018, we sued the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and CBP for their failure to respond lawfully to twelve requests for public information filed by Center researchers since 2017.