Civil rights groups are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles for allegedly wrongfully withholding documents linked to ICE’s practice of releasing people from custody when their deaths are imminent, according to court papers obtained Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April seeking the records after media reports of ICE releasing people from custody on their deathbeds, allowing the agency to avoid reporting their deaths to the public, avoid investigation, and avoid medical costs for people in its custody, the complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court, alleges.
The FOIA request has gone unanswered for over 60 days, according to the ACLU.
ICE did not immediately provide a response.
“The public has the right to know about ICE’s shameful patient dumping practices,” said Michael Kaufman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. “The federal government cannot evade responsibility for the fatal health conditions people suffer in its custody.”
The lawsuit — brought by ACLU SoCal, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the Pasadena civil rights law firm Hoq Law — also requests the records of four people who suffered illnesses while in ICE custody, and died shortly after they were suddenly released.
They include Martin Vargas Arellano, 55, an ACLU SoCal client who was released three days before his death last year, according to the suit.
After he was released from custody, ICE did not report his death, and Vargas Arellano’s own family and lawyer did not find out about his passing until weeks later, after they filed a missing person report, the plaintiffs allege.
“ICE’s practice of formally releasing people from their custody at the eleventh hour, prior to their death, is unconscionable,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
“Now, the agency is keeping invaluable records about these practices from public view, consistent with its culture of secrecy,” she said. “The public deserves to know the truth of what’s happening and the people detained by ICE deserve accountability and change.”