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ICE Seeks Permission To Routinely Destroy Records Of Immigrant Deaths & Assaults While In Custody

An ICE agent processes a detained immigrant at a California processing center.
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An ICE agent processes a detained immigrant at a California processing center. John Moore/Getty Images

In a move that's alarming immigrant advocates, ICE has asked the federal government to let them speed up its timetable for destroying certain records the agency keeps, including records related to deaths and sexual assaults of people in their custody.

Even as the Trump administration ramps up its enforcement against undocumented immigrants, ICE is attempting to cut down the number of years that they keep records related to the treatment of the people they arrest, according to a report from the ACLU.

The advocacy group says the National Archives and Record Administration [NARA] has recently given a provisional approval to a request by ICE to destroy records related to deaths and sexual assaults in their custody after twenty years, and reports on the use of solitary confinement after just three years, among other records they keep.

ACLU staff attorney Carl Takei told Gothamist that as far as the organization understood, there weren't rules laid out for ICE governing document destruction, because the agency was created relatively recently (ICE was created in 2003, as an arm of the Department of Homeland Security). Takei said that given how long FOIA requests can take, that it's "terrifying to think that there would be retention schedules" for as short as three years.

There's also the issue of the reasoning behind the provisional approval, which Takei called troubling. The federal agency ruled that the records ICE is trying to get permission to destroy after a set time "do not document significant actions of Federal officials," according to the ACLU. Takei said that retaining records would ensure "legal and public accountability."

As a point of comparison, NARA told Splinter that the Bureau of Federal Prisons disposes of records about in-custody deaths after five years, and that the US Marshals service does so after two years. A spokesperson for the National Archives also told the site that records related to a death investigation would only be permanent if the death was caused by employee misconduct.

But in a system that Takei said is "rife with human rights abuses," there's a need for records to last. "For people who've suffered human rights abuses under ICE and sue for redress, they need access to documents about their arrest and detention. If those documents are destroyed in the early stages or before the lawsuit happens, they're gone forever."

Takei also said he worried that the new rules would allow the destruction of records that future historians could use to shed light on a time when the Trump administration is promising mass deportations and encouraging prisoner abuse.

Since October 1st last year, 10 people have died in ICE custody nationwide. In addition, the ACLU found almost 200 instances of sexual abuse at ICE facilities thanks to a 2011 FOIA request, including 14 at ICE facilities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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