WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for wrongfully withholding public records regarding the agency’s practice of releasing hospitalized detainees from legal custody on their deathbeds. This practice allows ICE to avoid requirements that the agency publicly report these deaths, conduct investigations into the deaths, and pay medical costs for the detainee.
The lawsuit comes after the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in July of 2021 seeking documents related to ICE’s practice of releasing hospitalized detainees from custody prior to their imminent death. The request has gone unanswered for more than 80 days.
“ICE’s practice of formally releasing people from their custody at the eleventh hour, prior to their death, is unconscionable. Through this practice, ICE is avoiding the most basic accountability measures for their failure to care for people in their custody. Now the agency is keeping invaluable records about these practices from public view,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “With each passing day, detained people continue to face dangerous conditions and a lack of accountability, and the public continues to be left in the dark about it.”
The ACLU requested communications and documents related to four people known to have died shortly after their release by ICE, and additional records related to hospitalization, deaths, and decisions to release sick people from ICE custody.
To date, neither DHS nor ICE has produced a single document.
The lawsuit asks for the immediate processing of ACLU’s request and disclosure of records responsive to the ACLU’s request that are not specifically exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
Counsel for this case include Eunice Cho of the ACLU National Prison Project, Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, and Alison Barnes and Leslie Esbrook of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner LLP.
The filing can be found here. This press release is online here.