Ten undocumented immigrants have died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody this fiscal year, including three immigrants who died in a private detention facility in the span of only three months. In one New Jersey jail where an undocumented man essentially bled to death this past spring, 121 people filed medical grievances over a two-year period and “the jail took corrective action in fewer than 3 percent of those cases.” It’s a fact that ICE commits egregious crimes worthy of criminal prosecution. It’s a reason why, according to this devastating report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the agency is seeking to literally erase its history:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently asked the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), which instructs federal agencies on how to maintain records, to approve its timetable for retaining or destroying records related to its detention operations. This may seem like a run-of-the-mill government request for record-keeping efficiency. It isn’t. An entire paper trail for a system rife with human rights and constitutional abuses is at stake.
ICE has asked for permission to begin routinely destroying 11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody. Other records subject to destruction include alternatives to detention programs; regular detention monitoring reports, logs about the people detained in ICE facilities and communications from the public reporting detention abuses. ICE proposed various timelines for the destruction of these records ranging from 20 years for sexual assault and death records to three years for reports about solitary confinement.
For years, advocates and communities across the country have denounced human rights abuses in the detention system. Many of the records that ICE proposes for destruction offer proof of the mistreatment endured by people in detention. Given the Trump administration’s plans to increase the size and scope of the system substantially, it is all the more disturbing that the agency wants to reduce transparency and accountability.
“NARA has provisionally approved ICE’s proposal and its explanations for doing so are troubling,” states the ACLU. “In cases of sexual assault and death, for example, NARA states that these records ‘do not document significant actions of Federal officials.’” But in the case of the immigrant man who died in a New Jersey jail, relatives and advocates allege “his pleas for help were being ignored” and federal immigration officials neglected to inform the family for two days after he died. While the county revoked the security clearances of two members of the medical staff for “errors,” no one else was held accountable. And, if ICE gets its way, these kinds of records could be gone.