JW Victory: Court Rules Obama Department of Homeland Security Violated FOIA with Stealth Amnesty Secrecy
Court Orders Document Release over DHS Objections
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Obama Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking records related to the agency’s policy of suspending some illegal alien deportations. (Judicial Watch v United States Department of Homeland Security (No. 11-cv-00604)). The opinion was issued by The Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
The Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit concerns a DHS policy, implemented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which led to the reduction of the deportation docket in Houston, Texas, by dismissing pending enforcement proceedings against illegal immigrants who DHS claimed did not have serious criminal records. Judicial Watch subsequently uncovered records showing that multiple deportation cases were dismissed against illegal immigrants who had committed serious felonies.
The litigation has increased significance with the Obama administration’s large scale suspension of deportations and, most recently, the release of thousands of criminal illegal aliens due to alleged sequester budget cuts. According to The Associated Press, since mid-February, the Obama administration has released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation from jail. Reports indicate that it plans to release 3,000 more during March.
Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request with DHS on August 30, 2010, and a subsequent lawsuit on March 23, 2011, after the DHS refused to release the requested records. On January 27, 2012, the U.S. District Court denied a DHS motion to dismiss in part, chastising the agency for its inadequate explanations and giving it one “final” opportunity to establish the applicability of certain privileges in withholding the information from Judicial Watch.
In the February 28, 2013, decision, the District Court ruled that with respect to a substantial number of documents at issue, DHS had continued to improperly withhold information under the “attorney-client” and attorney “work-product” privileges:
- Regarding DHS attempts to withhold information under an attorney-client privilege, the court ruled in favor of Judicial Watch, declaring, “[E]ach of these documents appears to concern nothing more than the implementation of an agency policy, the withholding of which runs counter to the [DC] Circuit’s [earlier] admonition that a government attorney’s ‘advice on political, strategic, or policy issues [is] not … shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege.’” (The court drew a similar conclusion regarding the DHS effort to withhold information in order to protect attorney “work-product.”)
The records at issue concern internal DHS controversy over how the Houston ICE officials were interpreting the Obama administration’s narrowed immigration enforcement priorities.
Documents previously uncovered by Judicial Watch show that DHS officials misled Congress and the public about the scope of its immigration enforcement policy change, which gave wide latitude to local immigration officials to dismiss illegal alien deportation cases – including the dismissal of charges against illegal alien criminals convicted of violent crimes.
“This ruling shows the Obama administration is willing to go to any extent – including gaming the courts – to continue stonewalling the full story of its lawless release of illegal aliens,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Now, with the prison floodgates being thrown open to illegal aliens under the phony pretense of abiding by sequester cuts, it is more important than ever that Obama’s hand be revealed. We’re pleased the Court would not allow DHS to continue its contempt for FOIA law.”