Lawsuit claims feds are illegally withholding documents relating to immigration raids

A civil rights organization is suing the federal government over what it alleges is a failure of immigration officials to release details of raids that federal agents conducted earlier this year that led to the arrests and detention of more than 100 women and children from Central America.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Georgia by the Southern Poverty Law Center, says that immigration officials are in violation of public records laws by not releasing information requested under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

The lawsuit names Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has maintained that immigration officials used deceptive practices to gain entry into many of the apartments and homes they raided, thereby engaging in unconstitutional actions in order to round up the immigrants. The FOIA request sought government records regarding those raids, which occurred in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina in January.

Fox News Latino also sent ICE a FOIA request in April pertaining to the January raids, but the agency has not complied with the request.

The Southern Poverty Law Center submitted its request in January.

“It has now been over six months since Plaintiff submitted its FOIA request, and defendants have failed to produce any records or provide a substantive response to the request,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff has now therefore exhausted its administrative remedies with respect to the FOIA request.”

Jennifer Elzea, acting press secretary for ICE, said to Fox News Latino: “ICE doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”

The immigrants were part of a surge of Central Americans who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border beginning in 2014, going up to Border Patrol agents and, in many cases, requesting political asylum. Many were mothers and their children.

Advocates and attorneys for the immigrants say that many had received a temporary stay from an immigration judge and were allowed to remain in the country pending their case. They also say that immigration agents lied when they approached the residences they raided, telling the occupants that they were police and were searching for a suspect.

"There are serious questions about whether ICE agents' conduct during these raids violated the Constitution. We cannot allow ICE, the nation's largest law enforcement agency, to avoid accountability and violate the federal law by withholding these records," Lisa Graybill, the center's deputy legal director, said in a statement to the press.

The lawsuit said that the ICE raids had created widespread fear in immigrant communities, making people reluctant to go to work, school, wait at bus stops and to engage in other normal daily activities.

Immigration agents long have been accused of lying to get people to open their doors and allow them inside their residences. Many times the accusations echo one another – that federal agents misled immigrants into thinking they were local police, and that they said they were looking for someone whose name or photo was not of anyone inside the home.

Immigrants often say they opened their doors, believing that police were there to tell them of a loved one who had been in an accident or some other incident, or they allowed the agents access believing they might know something about the suspect for whom the authorities supposedly were searching.

Immigration officials typically deny they use deceptive tactics.

“These raids have raised serious concerns about potential constitutional violations,” the lawsuit said. “Upon information and belief, in several instances, ICE agents entered homes without obtaining lawful and voluntary consent during these immigration raids.”

The complaint said the actions by immigration officials caused “irreparable damage in trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”