Nonprofit Group Seeks Sanctions Against Immigration Agency

May 28, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection uniform patch during a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on migration on the Southern U.S Border on April 9, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images/TNS) **FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY**

WASHINGTON – A national civil rights group is asking a federal judge in Colorado to sanction U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE for “atrocious litigation conduct.”

The federal agency is requiring the nonprofit organization to do a computer keyword search to find information about conditions at two immigrant detention centers, despite the fact the group says its effort with the searches turned up no useful information.

The lawsuit resulted from a Freedom of Information Act request the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center made last year to both ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

After failing to get the information it sought, the center filed a lawsuit alleging ICE stonewalled its efforts to obtain documents about two immigrants who died in U.S. custody. The group also sought documents about the medical and mental health care of detained immigrants at ICE centers in Alabama and California.

The judge now is considering the organization’s motion for legal costs and its demand for ICE to produce the relevant documents.

The court previously approved a framework that the center could use for obtaining the documents.

However, in a court filing last week the center accused ICE of impeding production of the remaining estimated 60,000 documents by requiring what the group called a “useless” keyword search of the agency’s database.

The documents are being drawn from categories of information that the organization characterized as the most important.

One set of documents seeks information on immigrants Vincente Caceres Maradiaga and Kamyar Samimi. They both died in 2017 while at ICE detention centers, according to the center.

The nonprofit group says ICE originally denied it had documents on the deaths of the two immigrants. ICE also refused to check further to see whether they could be found, the group says.

Later, on April 24, ICE told the group that it interpreted its Freedom of Information Act request as seeking information only on “completed death reviews” rather than any that might be ongoing, the center said in its complaint.

The next day, ICE changed its story to acknowledge it had information on both the ongoing and completed reviews of the immigrants’ deaths, the center said.

“Virtually every word uttered by ICE as set forth above has been disingenuous at best,” the organization said in its motion for court-ordered sanctions. “ICE has been well aware of both death investigation files for the entire pendency of this action but pretended they did not exist.”

The center said ICE knew the keyword searches would be a waste of time.

“The Samimi death review, to be charitable, reveals callously neglectful medical practices that resulted in the death of a detained immigrant, followed by a coverup,” the center’s attorneys wrote in their motion.

The case is Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

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