In light of the Trump administration's move to detain more immigrants at the border and round up greater numbers of undocumented immigrants already in the United States, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s request asking the National Records and Archives Administration (NARA) for permission to destroy records related to detention operations becomes more alarming.
The American Civil Liberties Union reported in August that Ice sought to change timelines for keeping and destroying records relating to everything from solitary confinement to deaths of detainees.
ICE has asked for permission to begin routinely destroying 11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody. Other records subject to destruction include alternatives to detention programs, regular detention monitoring reports, logs about the people detained in ICE facilities, and communications from the public reporting detention abuses. ICE proposed various timelines for the destruction of these records ranging from 20 years for sexual assault and death records to three years for reports about solitary confinement.
NARA gave decidedly light treatment to the matter, and granted a preliminary go ahead to the agency, angering immigration advocates who have long decried human rights abuses they claim are rampant within CBP.
NARA has provisionally approved ICE’s proposal and its explanations for doing so are troubling. In cases of sexual assault and death, for example, NARA states that these records “do not document significant actions of Federal officials.” It’s hard to believe that the actions of a federal official are not significant in the death or sexual assault of an individual who is in federal immigration custody. NARA also posited that in cases of sexual assault, that the “information is highly sensitive and does not warrant retention.”
As the ACLU noted, at a time when the number of detained immigrants is expected to dramatically increase, pulling back on transparency is particularly harmful:
The impacts of detention are devastating on immigrants, their families and communities. For an individual who has been sexually assaulted in detention or for a family member whose loved one died in detention, having a full and thorough record of ICE’s actions, its policies and investigation can be an important step toward vindicating their rights.
If the Trump administration has its way, the number of immigrants in detention will increase, detention conditions will deteriorate further and more people will be subjected to life-threatening circumstances and denied their most basic rights. ICE shouldn’t be allowed to purge important records and keep its operations out of the public eye.