NDLON Press Releases

Latest updates on our news, events & campaigns

Se Communities Scrutiny Expands to FBI

Washington, DC. Yesterday, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 70 civil rights, immigrants’ rights, and privacy rights groups sent a letter calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the FBI’s role in the controversial Se Communities deportation program (S-Comm) and the Next Generation Identification (NGI) initiative. The letter urged an immediate Inspector General audit of both programs.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic revealed that S-Comm is the first step in NGI, an unprecedented, billion dollar initiative to create the world’s largest biometric database. NGI will expand on S-Comm by forcing greater collection and dissemination of personal information between federal agencies, without the consent of the states that provide the information. NGI will also expand the types of information collected to include iris scans, palm prints, and facial recognition scans, along with the traditional fingerprints. Both NGI and S-Comm have their roots in the post-September 11th expansion of domestic surveillance and corresponding weakening of privacy protections.
Chris Newman, Legal Programs Director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said: “An unfortunate legacy of 9/11 is the onset of a culture of suspicion that conflated fear of terrorists with fear of immigrants. Secretive and misguided programs like S-Comm contributed to this pernicious fear of newcomers. Ten years after 9/11, there is now a vibrant national discussion about how to preserve security without jettisoning core constitutional values. While many may disagree about how to strike an appropriate balance, we can all agree transparency from the very agencies charged with keeping us safe is absolutely essential. The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General must immediately audit the FBI’s role in S-Comm and the so-called Next Generation Identification Initiative.”
Jessica Karp, Staff Attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said: “S-Comm has been plagued with problems since it began. ICE is now under investigation for lying to Congress, states, and localities about the program’s scope and the role of state and local partners. Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and many of the nation’s largest cities have said they want no part of S-Comm. They are concerned that it undermines public safety while encouraging pretextual arrests and racial profiling. An investigation of the FBI’s role in this controversial program is urgently needed. The Inspector General must also investigate the extent to which the problems associated with S-Comm are common to the Next Generation Identification initiative as a whole.”
Letter to DOJ available for download at http://ndlon.org/pdf/dojletterfinal.pdf
Appendix available for download at http://ndlon.org/pdf/dojletterappendix.pdf
More information available at http://uncoverthetruth.org
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Administration Announcement Falls Short

In Response to the announcement made by Senior Officials that DHS would review its caseload of 300,000 currently in deportation proceedings, Chris Newman, Legal Director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, issued this statement:
“The administration has earned the President the title of ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’ We hope the statement today announcing review of the current caseload of victims of indiscriminate enforcement is carried forth. However, we have heard elegant statements of priorities before, and the problem is that those announcements have been belied the administration’s actions.
In order to fulfill its promises, the Obama administration must end policies like Se Communities that result in the criminalization of innocent immigrants who are Americans in Waiting like those who came before them. To date, the administration has pursued policies that are sowing and fear and devastation among immigrant communities, and it must reverse course to stop the Arizonification of the country.” …

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U.S. Forced to Release New “Embarrassing” Documents On Controversial Se Communities Program

Judge to Hold Hearing Today as Government Tries to Withhold More Documents

New York – In the wake of protests and civil disobedience in Chicago yesterday and across the country criticizing the Obama administration’s Se Communities program, immigrant advocates called on the government to turn over remaining documents about the program sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit and to halt the controversial program.
A batch of unredacted documents released by court order this week, which federal district court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin called “embarrassing,” included acknowledgement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys that they would have to “rewrite” memos on whether the program is mandatory for states and localities and revealed schisms between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the right of states and localities to opt out of the program. In her order, Judge Scheindlin chided the agencies for going “out of their way to mislead the public about Se Communities,” and pointedly stated that the “purpose of the [Freedom of Information Act] is to shed light on the operation of government, not shield it from embarrassment.”
The judge has not yet ruled on whether the government must release other documents relating to the legal authority to make Se Communities mandatory. Strikingly, the government continues to attempt to withhold documents that shed light on that policy. ICE will be back in court today arguing it should be able to keep secret documents relating to the agency’s purported legal basis to impose S-Comm on unwilling states like Massachusetts, Illinois and New York.
The documents are being sought in a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law with the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organization Network.
One previously redacted email chain of over 100 pages shows the director of Se Communities, David Venturella, dodging questions from Margo Schlanger, an important official from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (OCRCL). When ordering release of this document, Judge Scheindlin observed that the exchange showed “clearly obfuscating” and “non-responsive” answers from ICE in response to a request for clarification from OCRCL about Se Communities policy. DHS000196-000317.
Another email chain from July 2010 discussing a draft response to Representative Zoe Lofgren’s letter requesting clarification on the agency’s opt-out policy indicates that the FBI was considering an opt-out option. The FBI had concerns that if no opt-out was allowed, states might consider not sending fingerprints to the FBI for other purposes. The email notes that “moving away from the mandatory stance” would require “S1” (Secretary Napolitano) and AG approval. ICE FOIA 10-2674.0002039.
The back-and-forth and deception was clearly frustrating to ICE officials. In an angry email dated August 6, 2010, a Se Communities employee comments: “We never address whether or not it is mandatory – the answer is written to sound like it is but doesn’t state it. It’s very convoluted – or is that the point? I’m all about shades of grey but this really is a black and white question…Is it mandatory? Yes or No. Ok, so not such an easy question to answer.” ICE FOIA 10-2674.0011165-ICE FOIA 10-2674.11171.
Commenting on the documents, Sunita Patel, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The previously redacted portions of these documents—now public for the first time—reveal the extent of ICE’s deceit and political game-playing in its communications with states and localities. Perhaps more disconcerting, though, is the confusion and flip-flopping within the agency about their own policies and plans for deployment of such a high-impact and unprecedented program.”
Added Bridget Kessler, an attorney with the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic, “These newly unredacted documents signal that the fight is not over yet. ICE’s purportedly ‘mandatory’ S-Comm policy appears to lack a sound legal basis, and is certainly misguided and confused as a matter of policy. Massachusetts, New York and Illinois should continue to push the federal government to honor their rejection of S-Comm.”
Sarahi Uribe, national organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said, “Even as they moved full-speed-ahead with deploying this program across the nation, at times top-level agency officials didn’t seem to fully understand—or disagreed about—how the program would work. Everywhere around the country people are resisting—there have been walkouts and arrests during S-Comm hearings, rallies, and thousands of petition signatures delivered to President Obama. The time has come. It’s time to halt S-Comm.”
The groups said they will continue to litigate this case to obtain the full information about S-Comm that the public is entitled to.
Visit CCR’s NDLON v. ICE case page or the joint website, UncovertheTruth.org, for an index of the newly released documents, the text of the FOIA request, the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York and all other relevant documents.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org.
The mission of the National Day Laborer Organization Network is to improve the lives of day laborers in the U.S. by unifying and strengthening its member organizations to be more strategic and effective in their efforts to develop leadership, mobilize day laborers in order to protect and expand their civil, labor and human rights. Visit www.ndlon.org.
The Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law was founded in 2008 to provide quality pro bono legal representation to indigent immigrants facing deportation. Under the supervision of experienced practitioners, law students in the Clinic represent individuals facing deportation and community-based organizations in public advocacy, media and litigation projects. Visit www.cardozo.yu.edu.

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Authoritative National Report Condemns Se Communities Program

Today, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and others made public an authoritative report condemning the Se Communities deportation program and recommending its termination.
The report includes testimony from former District Attorney of New York Robert Morgenthau, heads of law enforcement, and victims of Se Communities like Isaura in Los Angeles whose 911 call for help resulted in her deportation proceedings.
In contrast to the DHS appointed taskforce which has failed to enlist the voices of affected communities, scholars, or critics on the subject, this report constitutes a real deliberative and representative review of the program.
The report recommends that the Se Communities be terminated, that the current OIG investigation of S-Comm be expanded to all ICE Access programs, that the Department of Justice begin its own investigation into the mysterious role of the FBI in Se Communities, and that states not be compelled to share biometric data with ICE.
The following statement can be attributed to the National Community Advisory Commission
“This report confirms what immigrant communities have long known. The program called Se Communities results in the opposite. Entangling local police in immigration enforcement is not just bad policy as the experts testify. Conscripting local police into immigration enforcement has provoked a massive civil rights crisis our country now faces. The only suitable approach is to end Se Communities.”
The Commission includes: American Friends Service Committee, Project Voice New England, Asian Law Caucus, CASA de Maryland, Center for Constitutional Rights, CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Detention Watch Network, Grassroots Leadership, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyer’s Guild, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Rights Working Group, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, We-Count!
The report is available at http://altopolimigra.com/s-comm-shadow-report/
Background on the Se Communities Program is available at www.uncoverthetruth.org and in a press brief at http://ndlon.org/pdf/scommbrief.pdf…

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ICE Announcement throws discredited deportation program into further disarray and confusion.

DHS Cannot Rule by Decree
In a shocking announcement by ICE late Friday afternoon announcement where the agency announced its attempt to unilaterally nullify years of contracts and agreements with 39 state partners. The agency will inform state officials that participation in the controversial Se Communities program which is currently under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and which is the subject of intense criticism, is mandatory.
Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued this statement:
“Today’s announcement confirms ICE’s status as a rogue agency. The level of deception involved in S-Comm so far has been alarming , but this moves things to another level. A contract is a contract—but apparently not when it comes to ICE.
A federal judge already found that DHS and ICE went out of their way to mislead the public about Se Communities. Today’s announcement shows that ICE also systematically misled the states, engaging in protracted negotiations–at substantial cost to the American public–for what it now claims are sham contracts.
All the deception in the world can’t hide the fact that the S-Comm is horrible policy. By entangling local police in immigration enforcement, S-Comm is criminalizing immigrants and leading to the Arizonification of the country. Ultimately, the announcement today only puts into further question the legal basis for the program. ICE can no longer be trusted to police itself.”

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Se Communities Courtroom Battle Comes to a Head

New York, NY.
What: Courtroom Arguments in NDLON v. ICE FOIA litigation
Where: Manhattan, Federal District Court.
When: August 11th.
Next Thursday, August 11th, advocates will argue for the release of key documents the agency continues to withhold related to the Se Communities opt-out policies. Upon reviewing certain of the unredacted documents that are the subject of this challenge, Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin concluded in a scathing opinion, “There is ample evidence that ICE and DHS have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Se Communities,” and ordered the agency to release certain documents that could not be withheld simply because they might embarrass DHS and ICE.

In the year and a half since the beginning of the FOIA litigation, the documents that have been released so far shed light on a secretive and over-reaching deportation program. As the dangerous scope and impact of the program has been uncovered, a consensus has grown calling for the program’s termination. Governors in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts have sought to opt-out of the program.

In an attempt to preempt the embarrassing documents that the court has ordered released and the conclusive results of the OIG investigation to be completed this winter, ICE and DHS have rolled out a series of cosmetic tweaks and a taskforce to “study” the program. These announcements have been widely condemned as insufficient given the civil rights crisis created by the program.

“If what we’ve seen so far tells us anything, it’s that ICE is an agency that cannot be trusted. The court has ordered ICE to release documents that FOIA gives the public a right to access. But the agency continues to stonewall and delay turning them over. The constantly shifting policies and lack of transparency about those policies, truly make it difficult to take what ICE says at face value. ” explained, Bridget Kessler, lawyer for Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.
Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network added,”DHS has far more interest in the politics of SCOMM than it does in developing a lawful policy that actually serves local communities. While DHS has moved at breakneck speed to advance a dubious program with media spin, it’s strategy in this litigation has been characterized by one word: delay. Thankfully, federal courts- and not DHS- will have the last word and will ultimately compel disclosure of information owed to the public and required by federal law.”…

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