Watchdog suing ICE, DHS, CBP to release records of deaths in custody

Watchdog suing ICE, DHS, CBP to release records of deaths in custody
© Greg Nash

Watchdog group American Oversight filed a lawsuit Thursday compelling federal agencies to release information about the deaths of migrants detained by federal authorities. 

American Oversight is seeking the release of records the group has yet to receive from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customers and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite filing a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

“Reports have shown us time and time again that deaths in DHS custody are avoidable. We can’t trust this administration to follow best practices for keeping detainees safe,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement. “Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have made it clear that the safety of migrants is not a priority. Each of these people have families who deserve to know the conditions that led to their loved one’s death.” 

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Spokespeople for ICE and CBP declined to comment on the specifics of the pending litigation. 

“However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” the CBP spokesperson added in a statement. 

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in D.C., is over seven FOIA requests filed by American Oversight, two from March and five from June, for records from the federal agencies related to the deaths of detained migrants. 

American Oversight is asking the court to order the federal agencies to conduct a search to uncover all records related to the FOIA requests, as well as enjoin the agencies from continuing to withhold any and all non-exempt records responsive to the FOIA requests.

The lawsuit is the latest in the watchdog’s investigations into the Trump administration's immigration policies. 

Twenty-seven detainees have died in ICE custody since 2018, according to ICE data.