U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) admitted it accidentally published the identities and other private information of more than 6,000 illegal immigrants held in federal custody while seeking asylum in the United States.
ICE released a statement saying it accidentally published the names, birthdates, nationalities and detention locations of 6,252 asylum seekers held in its custody to its website on Monday.
On Monday, "while performing routine updates, a document was erroneously posted to ICE.gov for approximately five hours that included names and other personally identifiable information, along with immigration information, of approximately 6,000 noncitizens in ICE custody," an ICE spokesperson admitted. "Upon notification, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took swift action to immediately rectify the error."
"Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary. ICE is notifying noncitizens impacted by the disclosure," the statement added.
Human Rights First, an immigrant advocacy group, first notified ICE about the spreadsheet containing the names and alien registration numbers (A-numbers) published on a page where ICE regularly publishes detention stats.
ICE then took steps to delete the personally identifiable information tab from ICE.gov.
The incident is under review by ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Part of the investigation into the data disclosure will involve identifying the IP addresses of entities that accessed the information during that five-hour time frame.
Those entities identified will then receive a "clawback" letter from the ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor asking them to destroy the document and not disseminate any sensitive information.
The Los Angeles Times reported that exposing such information – which federal regulation requires stay confidential unless top officials at the Department of Homeland Security sign off on its disclosure – could leave asylum seekers vulnerable to retaliation from people, gangs or governments from whom they were fleeing persecution.
ICE is reportedly notifying the impacted illegal immigrants or their attorneys of the improper disclosure, which will allow non-citizens to determine whether the disclosure may impact the merits of their protection claim.
ICE is monitoring the internet for potential re-posting of the document.
The Times reported that among the identities exposed were those of migrants seeking to avoid deportation back to Iran, Russia, and China.
One immigration advocate who spoke to the Times ripped ICE’s publication of confidential data as "illegal and ethically unconscionable, a mistake that must never be repeated."
While another, an attorney whose client’s identity was among those exposed in the incident, argued the woman is now "seeking protection from removal because she fears persecution if returned to her country of origin."