“The unprecedented data dump could expose the immigrants—all of whom are currently in ICE custody—to retaliation from the very individuals, gangs and governments they fled, attorneys for people who have sought protection in the U.S. said,” The Los Angeles Times reported. The kind of information leaked is protected by federal regulation, the report continued, and can only be released under approval from the very top.
Legal advocates told The Los Angeles Times that there’s a history of migrants being threatened by their persecutors after information about their cases goes public.
“Any breach of asylum seeker information in such a public way could quite literally have life-or-death consequences and the government must take every precaution to protect their safety,” Center for Gender & Refugee Studies Legal Director Blaine Bookey said in the report. National Immigrant Justice Center Managing Attorney Diana Rashid said one of her organization’s clients is among those whose personal information was leaked.
“We are deeply concerned about our client’s safety after ICE publicly shared this very sensitive information about her and thousands of others like her,” Rashid said in the report. “She is seeking protection from removal because she fears persecution if returned to her country of origin. Revealing this information makes her more vulnerable to the persecution and abuses she fears if deported.”
ICE claims it will notify affected immigrants about the leak, and that “it will not deport immigrants whose information it mistakenly posted until it is determined whether the disclosure affects their cases,” the report continued. But be vigilant about this: ICE has often, and very intentionally, worked to sabotage immigrants’ cases, including blocking them from accessing legal help while in detention. It’s a fact that when immigrants are able to access legal aid, they’re more likely to be freed and win some sort of relief.
ICE also just flat-out lies, to you and me and to Congress, outrageously claiming this pass spring that it offered detained immigrants “unabated” access to legal help during the pandemic. In just one example of how ICE has gone out of its away to restrict immigrants from their rights, the agency in 2019 infamously shut down a free hotline for detained people seeking legal help after it was featured in an episode of Orange Is the New Black. ICE was forced to reinstate the hotline following a lawsuit.
“The lives of people fleeing persecution deserve to be respected and protected,” advocacy group Al Otro Lado tweeted. “Thousands of asylum seekers’ personal information was released to the public by ICE. They’re now at risk of being targeted. This flagrant violation of privacy is unacceptable.”
One thing ICE could do right now to help asylum-seekers who were affected by their egregious leak is to release them and allow them to shelter with relatives and sponsors. Many have loved ones already in the U.S. And why are they even detained in the first place? Per TRAC Immigration data, nearly 70% of people in ICE detention have no criminal record. “Many more have only minor offenses, including traffic violations.”
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