LexisNexis under growing pressure to sever ties with ICE
A campaign aimed at convincing LexisNexis to terminate its contract with immigration enforcement has made significant headway in recent months with research breakthroughs and the recruitment of new allies.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has maintained a contract with the data broker best known for its legal research tools since at least last year.
Many new details of how the agency has utilized that multimillion-dollar contract to identify, pursue and deport undocumented immigrants have been revealed recently.
Last month, documents obtained by the immigrant advocacy group Just Futures Law showed that ICE agents searched the LexisNexis database more than 1.2 million times in just seven months of 2021.
The company’s tools bring together data on millions of individuals from a wide variety of sources, including credit agencies and utility providers.
The widespread use of the tools has raised serious questions about guarantees that LexisNexis’s technology is only used to identify individuals with dangerous criminal records.
More than a quarter-million of the searches were conducted by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, a department focused on locating and deporting immigrants often living far away from borders.
The documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Just Futures Law also confirmed another recently uncovered use of LexisNexis’s technology: federal officials skirting “sanctuary city” laws.
ICE has used third-party technology companies like the data broker to go around laws adopted by dozens of counties and states to restrict what information local law enforcement can share with immigration authorities, according to a report released this spring.
The report, put together by several immigrant advocacy groups including Mijente and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, found that since Colorado passed a state sanctuary law in 2019, sheriffs have provided real-time incarceration data to ICE via LexisNexis tools.
That has let ICE continue to pick up immigrants targeted for deportation who are arrested, even if they are not ultimately found guilty of any crimes.
“What this looks like in practice is that one, ICE has access to both thousands of data points of commercial public data, as well as real time notifications about the incarceration status and release of people in local jails,” explained Mijente’s Cinthya Rodriguez. “That information can be used to target people for detention and deportations.”
The revelations about the use of data brokers like LexisNexis to circumvent sanctuary city policies have brought more parties into the push to have the firms drop work with ICE.
In Cook County, Ill., where Chicago is located, local officials have scheduled a first-of-its-kind hearing for next week on the topic.
“Our office started looking more in depth into some of the loopholes that currently exist to local and state legislation that protects immigrant communities,” County Commissioner Alma Anaya told The Hill.
“It’s extremely important for us to take a deeper dive in the loopholes that exist while using technology and some private corporate institutions to be able to obtain information that ultimately leads to additional surveillance and separation of families.”
The July 27 hearing will provide an opportunity for local officials and constituents alike to learn about how ICE may be skirting rules put in place in 2015 blocking state agencies from cooperating with the agency.
“[The hearing] is also meant to set an example for other jurisdictions,” Anaya added.
Another group that has recently become an ally in the push for tech firms to drop ICE is librarians, a big part of LexisNexis’s customer base.
The Library Freedom Project (LFP), a group of librarians focused on surveillance threats, in conjunction with immigrant advocacy groups staged an action at the American Librarian Association Conference in Washington, D.C., last month bringing attention to LexisNexis’s work with ICE.
“The library world in the last few years and particularly our work in the LFP has focused significantly on different forms of vendor accountability because there’s become a big disconnect between what our values are and what our vendors’ values are,” said Alison Macrina, the Library Freedom Project’s director.
Mijente rented a billboard truck to circle the event with information about LexisNexis’s work with ICE while the LFP worked on educating fellow conference attendees.
“The reaction was really strong and really engaged,” Macrina told The Hill. “People were coming and signing up and asking for more information. … The reaction was really exactly what we thought it would be because what we know about our colleagues at libraries is that these are very caring and dedicated community servants and they’re pretty aware of the unique attacks that happen on the undocumented communities that they serve.”
Mijente and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition also staged a similar action at the American Association of Law Libraries conference in Denver this weekend calling on LexisNexis to stop working with ICE.
“LexisNexis, besides being a research tool used by librarians and lawyers across the country, is a massive government data broker, providing ICE with highly tailored personal information on tens of millions of people across the country,” Rodriguez said.
“The company is on notice: Librarians and lawyers across the country are calling on them to stop working on deportations and stop terrorizing immigrant communities.”
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