The heavily redacted documents, including dozens of blank pages, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week to fulfill a local congressman’s records request are an unsettling reminder of this agency’s secretive nature.
The timing of the documents’ release was ironic in that it coincided with Sunshine Week, which each year draws attention to the importance of open government. ICE’s response shows why Sunshine Week remains as relevant as ever. There’s no shortage of government officials willing to keep secret how they operate.
These documents create only more questions about last September’s regional operation targeting illegal immigrants. For starters, we still don’t know the names of the detainees, including several arrested in Rock County. If local police made secret arrests such as this, the community wouldn’t stand for it. But ICE apparently thinks it owes little explanation when it takes people into custody.
We’re troubled, too, that U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documentation. Members of the public must submit FOIA requests to agencies, but members of Congress typically have more timely access to information. Pocan said he waited 138 days to get information from ICE about an operation conducted in Pocan’s backyard. In filing a FOIA request, Pocan put on his investigative reporter’s hat, and we applaud his inquiry into ICE operations.
We hope ICE didn’t stonewall Pocan because of his opinions about the agency. Pocan has called for abolishing ICE, and his district includes Madison, a city notorious for giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants. It’s clear from the documentation ICE takes a dim view of some of the inhabitants of Dane County. “I know there is a radical population in the Dane area and no doubt, some of that population may bleed over to the Rock County area and specifically Janesville,” an ICE official (with the name redacted) states in a correspondence with the Janesville Police Department.
ICE would surely deny Pocan’s political views affected its response, but its handling of Pocan’s requests raises suspicions. When a government agency starts playing favorites based on people’s political views, it prompts questions about that agency’s impartiality. The FBI has experienced something similar, as its standing with the public diminished in wake of accusations it politicized investigations into the 2016 presidential candidates.
ICE, of course, cites legal justifications for redacting many parts of the released documents, and it spells out the exemptions in a Feb. 27 three-page letter to Pocan. But it’s impossible to say whether ICE properly applied these exemptions to Pocan’s request.
Pocan has said he would sue to get more information, and we encourage him to press this issue as far as the legal system will allow. We disagree with Pocan’s calls to abolish ICE but agree with him on this matter of transparency. We need transparency at all levels of government, and no agency deserves a free pass.