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Advocates: Feds withholding documents on deportation push

Three immigration advocacy groups are suing 10 federal agencies for failing to disclose information on a deportation program despite repeated Freedom of Information Act requests.

Filed in federal court on Tuesday, the suit by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Asian Law Caucus of Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, and Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School argues that the federal government is violating public records laws by releasing only a few documents in response to multiple Freedom of Information Act requests asking for information on the implementation of new immigration enforcement rules.

The complaint centers around the Priority Enforcement Program, which was part of a reorganization of U.S. immigration enforcement announced by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in November 2014. The new program, known as PEP, replaced the controversial Secure Communities program, which Johnson said had become "embroiled in political and legal controversy."

While both programs require local law enforcement agencies to relay fingerprints to Homeland Security, under Secure Communities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could file a "detainer" requiring a local jail to hold someone until ICE could pick them up. Under the new program, local law enforcement agencies are only required to notify ICE when a person is about to be released.

The program was part of a broader initiative to prioritize enforcement efforts following the announcement of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

However, while the federal government has been able to pursue PEP and new deportations, including a series of raids aimed at Central American women and children who had expired orders to leave the country, Obama's plan to protect up to 4 million immigrants from deportation by expanding two deferred action programs has been mired in court battles.

While this lawsuit was filed in New York, in Washington D.C. the Supreme Court announced that it would review the Obama administration's plan to expand deferred action, following a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states, including Arizona.

Last March, the group said it filed several freedom of information requests asking for information about PEP, with ICE, Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, and received "only 35 pages of records, which revealed information that was publicly available," the group said.

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DHS sent only a hyperlink to an eight-page report on PEP, and another hyperlink to an "internet page listing old, public DHS records with data relating in some way" to PEP's predecessor, Secure Communities, the group said.

In a public statement, NDLON said that "altogether the 10 agencies provided only 5 documents in response" to their requests and that ICE had yet to release a single document in response to the requests.

The lawsuit demands that the federal agencies involved immediately release "responsive records" on PEP. 

Pablo Alvarado, the executive director at NDLON, said that "PEP has failed to meet the bare minimum requirements for transparency and accountability"

"ICE is, once again, operating in secrecy. It's time for the nation's largest police force to come clean," he said.

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