CREW, the American Historical Association (AHA), and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) sued last March, after the National Archives gave ICE the green light to delete crucial documents. The groups said that while the public submitted 23,000 comments to the National Archives opposing the move—“a record-breaking number for the agency”—ICE’s request was largely allowed to go on.
“In December 2019, NARA approved ICE’s plan to destroy detainee records despite widespread alarm around abuse of detainees,” the groups said at the time. “Several categories of records, including those documenting detainee deaths, sexual assault and abuse, civil rights violations, inhumane solitary confinement practices, and violations of ICE detention standards, are set to be destroyed, with some slated for destruction as early as this year.”
But last Friday’s court decision was a huge victory for the watchdog organizations. ”Judge Amit Mehta granted summary judgment on the challenged aspects of ICE’s records destruction plan, writing, ‘NARA’s approval of the schedule was arbitrary and capricious on the grounds that NARA failed to evaluate the research value of the ICE records and that NARA failed to address significant and relevant public comments,’” they said following the court ruling.
ICE’s public track record—not specifically these internal documents not easily accessible to the general public, but just what we see reported on a regular basis in mainstream press—has made it clear enough that documents must be preserved as a matter of accountability. Within the past several weeks alone, ICE has deported Black asylum-seekers back to instability, refused to protect detained immigrants against the novel coronavirus pandemic, and deported a survivor of the El Paso mass shooting.
“Rosa,” as BuzzFeed News identified her for her safety, was deported over traffic tickets in spite of being eligible for a special visa after cooperating with law enforcement as a witness to the white supremacist terror attack. “The compound trauma of living through a mass shooting then being removed from the only home you’ve ever known is unimaginable,” El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar tweeted following an initial report on Rosa’s deportation to Mexico. “We’ll work to help get Rosa home. This is another example of our govt’s horrible practice of deporting victims of/witnesses to crime—and it must stop.”
“The ICE detention system needs further transparency, not even more cover as it commits human rights violations with impunity,” the American Civil Liberties Union said last year in filing a separate action to protect documents. CREW president Noah Bookbinder said, “[t]here have been too many abuses documented in our immigration detention system, but the country cannot fix these problems without knowing what has happened.”