ICE's Disappearing Data
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 July, 2018

The agency is making it difficult to examine its immigration crackdown

Dune Lawrence

Five days into his presidency, Donald Trump took aim at illegal immigration with executive orders signalling a new era of heavy enforcement. Not only did he threaten to go after undocumented immigrants, many of whom he labeled violent criminals, he also vowed to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that thwart the federal government’s attempts to round up people who are in the U.S. illegally. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security promised to put out weekly updates that would include information on localities that release immigration violators and the criminal records of those released.

The first reports were filled with inaccuracies and in several instances called out counties for not cooperating with detainer, or detention, requests that were actually sent to other places with similar names. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had to issue a list of corrections, and soon it simply stopped putting out the reports. For the past 18 months, ICE has also refused to release other key data about its enforcement activity that had been routinely available.

This disappearing data is at the heart of two lawsuits brought against ICE by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a small research group at Syracuse University. As of January 2017, ICE stopped handing over records it had provided under the Freedom of Information Act for years, including any details about how effective Trump’s crackdown has been. If ICE prevails in court, it could give other agencies a legal rationale to deny public access to the vast cache of government data now kept in electronic databases.

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