LOS ANGELES – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) are putting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on notice over ICE’s plan to destroy the records of immigrants in detention, including deaths in custody, solitary confinement and sexual assault.
In late August, ICE petitioned the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for permission to start routinely destroying 11 kinds of records on several proposed timelines. CIVIC and CREEC sent ICE a litigation hold letter which, according to Tim Fox, an attorney and the Co-Executive Director of CREEC, “places ICE on notice that litigation may be commenced concerning the topics covered in the letter, and thus ICE has a duty to preserve related documents, and this is true even if NARA approves ICE’s petition.”
“These records are vital to anticipated litigation. They are essential to obtaining justice for those individuals who’ve needlessly suffered at the hands of government officials,” says Christina Fialho, an attorney and the Co-Founder/Executive Director of CIVIC.
Earlier this year, CIVIC filed a civil rights complaint after uncovering, through a Freedom of Information Act request, widespread sexual abuse, assault and harassment in U.S. immigration detention facilities. CIVIC uncovered that between January 2010 and July 2016, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against DHS’s component agencies. But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases.
For example, Rosanna Santos was sexually harassed by a male guard at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania while she was in immigration detention. She was one of the named complainants in CIVIC’s federal civil rights complaint earlier this year. Rosanna says, “I spoke out about the sexual harassment so that something would be done for all those other women I knew who were being silenced. Destroying the evidence is not going to erase our traumatic memories or help bring those who are responsible for sexual violence to justice.”
The federal government has shown no interest in a proper and full investigation. And now, it wants to destroy sexual abuse and assault records. That won’t happen on our watch.
“We won’t let ICE willfully destroy evidence of systematic wrongdoing,” said Fialho. “ICE is now on notice that if they try to destroy these records, they will be subject to legal consequences.”
CIVIC is a national nonprofit headquartered in San Francisco, California, with a mission to abolish the U.S. immigration detention system. In addition to providing independent oversight of the U.S. immigration detention system, CIVIC also challenges immigration detention practices. Learn more atwww.endisolation.org.
CREEC is a non-profit located in Denver, Colorado, with a nationwide scope whose mission includes investigating and filing impact and class-action lawsuits on a broad array of civil rights issues. Learn more at www.creeclaw.org.