Across the United States, reports of immigration raids ran rampant this month. Some happened. Some didn’t.
But who got arrested?
Federal immigration officials won’t say, even though some experts say a little-noticed clause in President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order appeared to make most immigration arrest and court records public for the first time.
“I see no legal barrier to that [information] being disclosed now,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, a lawyer and the former chief privacy officer for the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security. “There’s no prohibition about them being public anymore.”
Federal immigration agencies are the only US law enforcement agencies that keep their arrest and court records from the public.
Homeland Security and the immigration courts have long blocked public access to immigration arrest and court records by extending the Privacy Act protections to immigrants who aren’t covered by the law, such as visa holders and undocumented immigrants. Officials say they are protecting immigrants’ privacy.
But critics say the agencies are also shielding themselves from public scrutiny — a serious concern because they are jailing immigrants and trying to deport many of them to dangerous lands.
In January, the Globe called on Trump to make all immigration arrests and court records available to the public, just as they are in the criminal system, after the newspaper documented the hazards of federal secrecy. In a campaign speech last year, Trump cited a Globe report that showed immigration officials secretly released thousands of criminals in the United States because they were unable to deport them. Then officials misled Congress about how often the criminals reoffended.
The Globe has also found that the dangers extend well beyond criminals, to sick immigrants jailed without a hearing, to the dozens who have died in detention, and the thousands held in remote immigration jails far from legal aid and families.
Still, some people are worried about making immigration arrests open to the public — Callahan among them. Some fear that people might harm immigrants or seek to embarrass them.
Callahan says Trump’s order strips privacy protections from immigrants too broadly. “Section 14 eviscerates it,” she said.
Section 14 is a paragraph in Trump’s executive order that says that the Privacy Act applies only to those covered by the 1974 law: Green card holders and US citizens — so it wouldn’t quite go as far as the Globe had requested. “Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information,” the order says.
The Trump administration has not confirmed that the clause makes arrest and court records public — and immigration agencies aren’t rushing to figure it out, in stark contrast to their lightning-quick enforcement of the travel ban that Trump issued two days later. Officials swiftly canceled 60,000 visas and stranded travelers at airports worldwide, unable to board planes to come to the United States.
Asked if immigration court records are now public, spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingly said on Jan. 27 that officials were evaluating Trump’s executive orders “to implement them as quickly as possible.”
Nothing had changed two weeks later, she said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the Homeland Security agency is also “currently determining how to best implement policies and guidance to carry out the executive order.”
Even people who favor stricter immigration enforcement say they hope Trump’s executive order will increase transparency.
“I don’t think they have any legal foundation for their withholding of information,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center of Immigration Studies. “The agencies are clearly being directed to release more information on people who are subject to immigration enforcement.”
Others say they hope the transparency, if put into effect, will also include protections for asylum seekers and others who fear for their lives.
“The ACLU of Massachusetts welcomes The Boston Globe’s call for increased transparency in the immigration enforcement system,” said executive director Carol Rose. “While protections must exist for the privacy of asylum seekers and other vulnerable individuals, a presumption of openness is consistent with the Constitution, the common law, and the interests of democracy.”
Federal officials’ refusal to provide information has frustrated people on all sides of the immigration debate.
For instance, when President Barack Obama severely limited ICE’s power to deport immigrants in 2014, nobody knew that the policy protected Renato Cordeiro-DeCampos, who returned to the United States after being deported in 2007, a federal crime. He was later arrested for alleged crimes in Massachusetts, some minor. ICE officials said they didn’t detain him because he wasn’t a priority under Obama’s rules.
He is now: This month police arrested him for allegedly sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls on Cape Cod. He pleaded not guilty.
Although Trump has pledged to fully enforce immigration laws, his administration is facing questions about civil rights violations out of public view.
The ACLU has been trying to get the names of immigrants detained and deported under Trump’s travel ban so that they can represent them in a class-action lawsuit in Eastern New York.
A judge ordered the government to provide the names to the civil-liberties organization, but it hasn’t yet.
Meanwhile, Trump has said he is intensifying immigration enforcement, but according to ICE, as of Feb. 4, some 41,068 immigrants were detained, a slightly lower number than the month before Obama left office (41,533).
Raids last week led to the arrests of 680 more immigrants nationwide, and officials said that most of the immigrants were criminals. But without additional information, that is impossible to verify.
Officials said nobody was arrested in Massachusetts as part of the raids. But lawyers say that is not the full story.
Carlos Estrada, a Boston immigration lawyer, said two clients were arrested in early February in a predawn raid at a house in Dorchester. He said they have no criminal records, but were in the house when ICE arrived looking for someone else.
Another immigration lawyer, Talia Barrales, said she thought immigration records should be public so that the American people will know how Trump is really enforcing the laws.
But she warned that the troubles with the immigration system started earlier. She has a client from Latin America who has been detained in Georgia for 1.5 years, before Trump took office, after fleeing domestic violence.
Thousands have protested Trump’s policies, but nobody protested that, she said. “Where have they been?”
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti.