Immigrant rights groups sue ICE, DHS for information on new deportation program

Already enmeshed in controversy over nationwide raids of undocumented families at the beginning of the month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security as well as eight other federal agencies are being sued in federal court to obtain documents information about a new community co-operation program.

The groups, which include the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School, filed the suit after ICE failed to provide them any documents relating to the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Altogether, of the 10 agencies with which the groups have filed FOIA requests, only five documents have been provided.

"There is a major lack of clarity and scope with the new program," Salvador Sarmiento, a spokesperson for NDLON told Fox News Latino. "We want to bring some clarity to what ICE is up to."

PEP was established by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson as a replacement for the controversial Secure Communities program.

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The new program uses biometric data to prioritize the deportation of detained immigrants who have been "convicted of an offense listed under the DHS civil immigration enforcement priorities, has intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang or poses a danger to national security," per ICE's website.

While PEP has been praised by Johnson, activists on both sides of the immigration debate have had qualms about it. Immigration advocates say it will foster distrust between migrant communities and law enforcement, and those who favor stricter immigration enforcement have called it ineffective and a threat to community safety.

"The implementation of ICE's new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) is a major setback to rule of law in our country," Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies, Center for Immigration Studies, said last summer. "It further scales back immigration enforcement by ICE, and it explicitly facilitates sanctuary jurisdictions in obstructing ICE efforts to take custody of criminal aliens."

NDLON's Sarmiento argued that the information that ICE has kept under wraps is especially important now with the presidential election less than 11 months away and with incendiary remarks about immigrants frequently being made by candidates like Donald Trump.

"We represent migrant workers and day laborers – people that are the first to be deported and who have very little rights," he said. "The fact that this is a political year makes it all the more pressing that we have some transparency."

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