LOS ANGELES - Nearly six months after hundreds of people were arrested outside of bus stations, schools and hospitals for alleged immigration violations, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking Border Patrol records after the agency repeatedly ignored requests for records related to the raids under the Freedom of Information Act. The suit was filed in federal court in the central district of California.
In June the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), formerly the Border Patrol, arrested more than 400 people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties during immigration raids in predominantly Latino communities - far from its usual jurisdiction near international borders.
The ACLU made an initial request for the records in July to ensure that the Border Patrol was acting within the law, not violating Californians' constitutional rights and not engaging in racial profiling since the majority of those stopped, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, were Latino.
"Questions like why the raids occurred, whether they were authorized, and whether people's constitutional rights were violated remain unanswered," said Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "The answers to such questions will likely be found in the Border Patrol's records."
After the raids began schools reported higher than usual absence rates and medical clinics saw a temporary decline in the number of patients seeking services.
"We have no way of knowing if the Border Patrol targeted people because of their race, the language they speak, or the community in which they live," said Esther Portillo of the Libreria del Pueblo, a community group in San Bernardino. "Here, the fear caused by the raids kept many people in their homes, afraid to go into the streets. To this day no one knows why the raids happened and we have the right to know."
Under the FOIA guidelines, the CBP, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, had 20 days to respond to the ACLU's request. The agency did not respond and after an appeal by the ACLU, the agency blamed a lack of resources and a backlog of requests for not responding and did not say whether or not it planned to answer the request. Because the agency kept its records secret and the public in the dark about its practices, the ACLU filed suit.