MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal judge opened the window a bit wider for immigration advocates to obtain "embarrassing" documents from the government about Secure Communities, an allegedly error-prone program that created fingerprint databases for deportation purposes.
The government presented Secure Communities to the public as a way to deport undocumented immigrants believed to have committed serious crimes, by letting state and local law enforcement share criminal fingerprint databases with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
In practice, immigration advocates say the databases are error-prone and contained fingerprints of people pulled over for traffic violations. They contend that authorities furtively rushed the program into mandatory, nationwide implementation without significant public engagement.
In April 2010, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law filed in a freedom of information lawsuit against five federal agencies implementing the program.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered
the release of thousands of documents dating back to Jan. 27, 2010. Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General announced the same day that it would launch an investigation into the program to determine whether the participating agencies misled the public.
But the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other advocates protested, saying that the discrepancy over the voluntary nature of Secure Communities dates further back.
Scheindlin said Monday that the new evidence persuaded her that ICE told the public Secure Communities was voluntary, months earlier than she had first estimated, before reversing its position.
The agency just announced that it was mandatory on Friday.
"I have no doubt, based on all the submissions in the instant matter, that Secure Communities was presented to the public as voluntary for some period of time, perhaps from its inception in 2008, and subsequently presented as mandatory, and that the shift in the agency's public position represented a shift in policy," Scheindlin wrote.
The new evidence shows that ICE stated that Secure Communities described Secure Communities as voluntary at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on April 2, 2009. Scheindlin set that as the new cutoff date for document production.
She said her first cutoff date was a judiciously "conservative estimate."
"There is great public interest attending the ever intensifying debate around Secure Communities, as well as a clear record that the relevant federal agencies have made it quite difficult to ferret out the details of their policies," Scheindlin wrote.
The agencies must turn over the additional nine months worth of documents by Aug. 29.
On Friday, the legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network ripped the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for voiding contracts with 39 state partners that believed they could opt out of the program.
"Today's announcement confirms ICE's status as a rogue agency," Chris Newman said in a statement Friday. "The level of deception involved in S-Comm so far has been alarming, but this moves things to another level. A contract is a contract - but apparently not when it comes to ICE."