Family Separation FOIA Request

Family Separation FOIA Request

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The American Immigration Council, in collaboration with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, and Women's Refugee Commission, filed requests for information regarding family separation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552.

The requests ask for policies, guidelines, or procedures used by the governmental agencies to address the processing and treatment of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, the separation of adult family members from minor children, the criminal prosecution of adult family members, and efforts to reunify families. Requests were filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and relevant sub-agencies.

The American Immigration Council and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP filed suit on June 27, 2018 challenging DHS, ICE and CBP’s failure to respond to the FOIA requests.

Since filing suit, the Council has received productions of records exposing DHS’s internal communications regarding the development of public messaging around family separation. The documents indicate that the agency sought to portray family separation as an effort to combat human smuggling and trafficking. The documents also reveal that the agency explored other methods for punishing parents who had already entered the country.

Other records reveal that Homeland Security Investigations, ICE’s investigative wing, monitored protest preparations across the United States and internationally in June 2018, as communities organized to oppose family separation policies.

The Council has also received productions of HHS records showing that children continued to be separated from their parents at the border following the ostensible end of the “Zero Tolerance” policy on June 20, 2018. The documents show that the administration relies on a parent's criminal history—either in the United States or their country of origin—or allegations of gang affiliation to justify more recent separations. However, while detained at the border, a person may be unable or ill-equipped to disprove the government's allegation of criminal history or gang affiliation. This is particularly true given the limited access to counsel for those in CBP custody. The stakes for these parents are incredibly high given the very real threat of being forcibly—and possibly indefinitely—separated from their children.

Additional documents from HHS include “Significant Incident Reports” that describe the harm that children in HHS custody experienced as a result of separation. HHS also released internal communication discussing efforts to locate separated parents and reunify them with their children and to elevate critical cases.

The Council and partners continue to pursue documents responsive to the FOIA request and will update this page if additional documents are produced

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