Judge rules ICE must keep records about sexual assault and detainee deaths

Judge rules ICE must keep records about sexual assault and detainee deaths

Originally Published in The Hill

Justine Coleman - March 14, 2021

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has to ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) keeps records about sexual assault and detainee deaths.

Judge Amit Mehta, who was appointed by former President Obama, sided with three watchdog groups who had sued NARA for approving ICE’s plan to dispose of records for which “ICE no longer had a business use.”

In his ruling, Mehta said that documents on sexual abuse and assault, death review files, detention monitoring reports, detainee segregation files, and reports from the Detention Reporting and Information Line had “research value” and should be preserved under the Federal Records Act.

The Federal Records Act allows an agency to get rid of records that have “temporary value” and are not needed for the "transaction of its current business and that do not appear to have sufficient administrative, legal, research, or other value to warrant their further preservation."

The judge concluded that one of the contested documents, detainee escape reports, did not meet the requirements to be saved, saying the plaintiffs did not show their “significant research value.”

"The court finds that, as to all but the Detainee Escape Reports, 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," he wrote.

"The court might agree with NARA were it not for the numerous comments touting the current and anticipated future research value of the records and criticizing the agency for not properly measuring their true value," the ruling added.

Law & Crime first reported the ruling on Friday.

The lawsuit was filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Historical Association and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

In a statement, Noah Bookbinder, the president of CREW, praised the court decision, calling it “an incredible ruling for transparency.”

"To destroy records revealing abuse, rights violations, and even deaths in detention would further obscure a system already severely lacking in oversight and transparency," he said. "There have been too many abuses documented in our immigration detention system, but the country cannot fix these problems without knowing what has happened."

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