Friday, April 17, 2020

Updates on ICE Work Program Violations - FOIA Litigation b(5), b(6), b(7) Order and GEO-Karnes TRO Motion

In an order issued on April 8, 2020, Judge Harry Leinenweber (Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division) ruled that the b(5) predecisional exemption is for policy decisions, not "how to spin its prior decisions":
...ICE’s internal communications about its responses to outside inquiries from the press, Congress, advocacy groups, and the public are not protected by the deliberative process privilege. From the Vaughn index descriptions and a review of the reprocessed supplemental production, ICE merely deliberates over which agency subpart should handle an inquiry and/or how to spin its prior decisions about the detainee volunteer work program and general operation of ICE detention centers. Those communications do not qualify as facilitating/informing a final agency decision or performing a deliberative function specifically assigned to ICE.... 
ICE must show that the messaging communications are so “intimately bound up with [the] agency’s central policy mission” to warrant protection. New York, 2018 WL 4853891, at *2. ICE does not make that showing here.... 
ICE’s Vaughn index descriptions and accompanying declarations do not demonstrate that these communications relate to anything other than rationalizing the agency’s final decisions. Thus, disclosure would not reveal the deliberative process behind not-yet-finalized policy decisions. Some of the redacted portions also appear to be pure facts and data that ICE solicited from its private jail operators. This kind of information is not protected by the deliberative process privilege. Nat’l Immigrant Justice Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, No. 12-CV-04691, 2018 WL 1508531, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 27, 2018) (citing Enviro Tech, 371 F.3d at 374) (noting the deliberative process privilege “typically does
not justify the withholding of purely factual material”).
(Case 1:14-cv-03305 Document 144, Filed: 04/08/20 Pages 17, 18, 19.)
The judge also rejected ICE's b(6) and b(7) arguments and ordered the agency to unredact the names of ICE officials who participated in these deliberations:
 ICE itself distinguishes between “personnel record files” and the emails at issue here. (Def.’s Reply at 8.) Yet, ICE argues that the names it redacted are protected because they belong to lower level employees. ICE labels these employees as “support staff.” (Id.) Generally, support staff provide administrative assistance to agency managers and would not have job titles like “Deputy Chief,” “Chief of Staff,” “Deputy Field Office Director,”or “Senior Advisor.” (Reprocessed Prod. at Supp. 105, 109, 138, & 299, Fuentes Decl., Ex. D, Dkt. No. 132-1.) Such titles indicate some level of managerial authority. Even if such employees were support staff, ICE overstates the authority supporting these redactions and fails to cite any case binding on this Court or directly relevant to these circumstances. See, e.g., Skinner v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 744 F. Supp. 2d 185 (D.D.C. 2010) (upholding redaction of law enforcement and support staff names, among others, from documents related to specific investigations under Exemption 7(C)); Associated Press v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 549 F.3d 62 (2d Cir. 2008) (withholding name redactions from a commutation petition under Exemptions 6 & 7(C)). Thus, Exemption 6 does not permit ICE to withhold the redacted federal employee names. As for Exemption 7(C), the Court asks whether these emails were “compiled for law enforcement purposes.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C). While ICE is obviously a federal law enforcement agency, not every document ICE produces or amasses has been “compiled for law enforcement purposes.” Id. “Courts have generally interpreted Exemption 7 as applying to records that pertain to specific investigations conducted by agencies, whether internal or external, and whether created or collected by the agency—in other words, investigatory files.” Families for Freedomv. U.S. Customs & Border Prot., 797 F. Supp. 2d 375, 397 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (collecting cases interpreting Exemption 7). The documents at issue are not investigatory files.
(Case 1:14-cv-03305 Document 144, Filed: 04/08/20 Page 25-27.)
Many thanks to Nicolette Glazer for her terrific briefing on this and other cases carrying on the litigation Andrew Free initiated on my behalf in 2014, when he filed a complaint to enforce my rights to documents about the contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the prison firms GEO and then-Correction Corporation of America, now CoreCivic.

GEO Karnes TRO
The FOIA litigation against ICE produced documents from which I quoted and linked in a law review article on the labor and employment law violations by these firms and was used in class action litigation against GEO and CoreCivic.  Federal judges and appellate courts have ruled against GEO and CoreCivic and the cases are going forward.

On April 6, 2020, attorneys filed a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order on behalf of "those subject to the Housing Unit Sanitation Policy (HUSP)."  The motion points out that
The living conditions encourage the rapid transmission of the virus and exposure to COVID-19 throughout the GEO facilities. And yet, GEO’s HUSPs still force Class Members to clean the epicenter of COVID-19’s spread at its facilities—the common spaces. GEO provides no protection to these workers, so they are unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19 because of GEO’s HUSP program. The circumstances call for immediate action to protect the Class Members where their ward, GEO, has completely failed.  5:17-cv-02514-JGB-SHK Document 252-1 Filed 04/06/20, pages 7-8.
Other cases in this litigation continue to move forward, including that of the nation-wide class of those alleging state and federal labor and trafficking law violations in the case against the GEO facility in Adelanto, California.

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