DHS Agencies Must Turn Over Information About Aggressive Tactics and Abuses, Say ACLU Affiliates in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

Portland – Today ACLU affiliates in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont filed a lawsuit to require government agencies to turn over records about civil rights violations arising from immigration enforcement in their states. The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It seeks records concerning interior enforcement operations including Border Patrol checkpoints and bus raids, ICE arrests at courthouses, and the targeted arrests of immigrants’ rights activists.

The ACLU originally filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the records on September 5, 2017. Since then, the agencies have failed to provide an adequate response.

“ICE and Border Patrol operate with almost no oversight or transparency, mislead the public about the legal basis for their operations, and violate civil rights with impunity,” said Lia Ernst, ACLU of Vermont staff attorney. “New England residents have a right to know what federal agents are doing in their communities and to demand accountability for their actions.”

Under the Trump administration, states have seen unprecedented and often harsh immigration enforcement. Local police forces are increasingly being asked to engage in federal immigration activities, often in violation of the federal and state Constitutions. According to the ACLU complaint, in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, immigration agents arrested more than 41,000 people – an increase of nearly 38 percent over the same period the previous year. The New England states, including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, experienced an even larger increase – up 58 percent from the same period the previous year.

For example:

  • In Maine, ICE officers arrested a Somali asylum seeker inside a Portland courthouse while he met privately with his lawyer about a pending case. The incident, the first of its kind in Maine, prompted Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to condemn courthouse arrests as “hav[ing] an unnecessary chilling effect on our efforts to obtain the cooperation of victims and our successful prosecution of crimes.”
  • In New Hampshire, ICE is currently attempting to deport more than 50 people from Indonesia, including 17 married couples with children who are U.S. citizens or have DACA status. The families have lived in the U.S. for years and were known to ICE because of their participation in a 2010 program called “Operation Indonesian Surrender” – under which they had been permitted to legally remain and work in the United States in exchange for turning over their passports and regularly checking in with immigration officials. ICE had called the program “a humanitarian effort” meant to “bring folks out of the shadows.”
  • And in Vermont, ICE and CBP have arrested several prominent members of Migrant Justice, a community-based organization made up of Vermont dairy farm workers, in apparent retaliation for their outspoken advocacy for workers’ human, labor, and civil rights.

“Millions of immigrants are living in fear that they could be ripped from their families and their homes at any time, without any warning or fair chance to make their case,” said Emma Bond, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maine. “These cruel and abusive actions could have dire consequences for New England communities.”

This lawsuit is the latest challenge to harsh immigration enforcement tactics under the Trump administration.

On May 4, the New Hampshire Circuit Court ruled that a border patrol checkpoint in Woodstock, New Hampshire, was unconstitutional under both state and federal law. In that case, the Woodstock Police Department worked with CBP to circumvent a prohibition in the New Hampshire Constitution against warrantless dog searches. CPB and the WPD searched and seized hundreds, and possibly thousands, of individuals during the summer tourist season, without any reason to believe that these individuals committed a crime.

“This decision is a victory for civil liberties. As the Court ruled, these checkpoints flagrantly violated the New Hampshire Constitution and the Fourth Amendment,” said Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU of New Hampshire legal director. “Cases like this are exactly why more information is needed about what immigration agents are doing in our states. If we do not keep them in check, they will run roughshod over our laws. That is not how a free society works.”

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