LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Hoq Law filed a public records lawsuit today against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for wrongfully withholding documents related to ICE’s practice of releasing people from custody when their deaths are imminent.
The ACLU SoCal filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April 2022 seeking these records after the media reported multiple incidents 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 FOIA request has gone unanswered for over 60 days.
“The public has the right to know about ICE’s shameful patient dumping practices,” said Michael Kaufman, the Sullivan and Cromwell Access to Justice 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 also requests the records of four people who suffered illnesses while in ICE custody, and died shortly after they were suddenly released. One of them includes Martin Vargas Arellano, a 55-year-old man and an ACLU SoCal client, who was released three days before his death last year. After releasing him from custody, ICE did not report his death, and Vargas Arellano’s own family and counsel did not find out about his passing until weeks later, after they filed a missing person’s report.
“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. The public deserves to know the truth of what’s happening and the people detained by ICE deserve accountability and change.”