In a 4-0 decision yesterday, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ordered the state Department of Public Safety to release documents relating to the June 6 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids on immigrants in the Fair Haven neighborhood.
The decision marks the first Freedom of Information Act triumph for Law School attorneys representing the immigrants-rights groups JUNTA for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Accion. Attorneys said they expect the new documents, when released, to strengthen existing evidence indicating that the raids were executed in political retaliation to the city’s newly-legislated municipal ID program.
Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Henri Alexandre said at the hearing that the release of these documents would undermine the relationship between state investigators and the Department of Homeland Security. He also said revealing the names and personal information of 32 people listed in the documents would violate their privacy rights.
State police officers collaborated with ICE agents to organize the June 6 raids, which resulted in the arrests of 32 residents in the predominantly Latino Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven. Simon Moshenberg LAW ’08, one of the FOI appeal’s litigators, said the unanimous decision puts the raids into public focus.
“The people of Connecticut may wonder whether they want state police to continue in these activities, given the constitutional violations,” Moshenberg said.
But in a brief filed in response to the commission’s decision, DPS Commssioner John Danaher III said revealing the documents would hinder cooperation between state and federal agencies to the detriment of public safety.
“Respondents urge the Commission to give due attention and consideration to the potential harm that the decision could impose on the ability of state and local law enforcement to cooperate with and receive from the federal government vital information necessary to protect the law-abiding public,” he said in the brief.
Among the documents to be released is a 10-page operational plan for the raids that was delivered to the DPS from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on May 29, as well as a list of 32 names with corresponding personal information, such as birth dates and addresses. Although Yale attorneys previously said they do not know which 32 names are listed, the number matches the number of residents who were arrested in the raids.
Other e-mails and paperwork relating to the raids were revealed in October by DPS in response to the Yale attorneys’ original July 12 FOIA request but were heavily obscured by black marker redactions. Following the commission’s decision, those documents will also be released in their entirety.
E-mails released by the DPS last Wednesday indicate that several ICE and DPS officials jubilantly anticipated the raids, with one e-mail saying, “It should be a fun time!! … Let me know if you guys can play!!”
Law School professor Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93, who also helped litigate the appeal, said he found the already-disclosed e-mails disturbing in light of a Tuesday CNN report of racist costumes at an ICE Halloween party.
CNN News reported that ICE Head and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie Myers hosted a Halloween party last week at which she awarded a man a “most original costume” award for sporting dreadlocks, a prisoner’s outfit and black facial make-up. Myers later apologized for a few “inappropriate and offensive” costumes that were caught on camera and said she regrets the incident.
The commission also ordered the DPS to undertake a “diligent search” for archived, deleted or sent e-mails written in response to the Yale attorneys’ requests for all of its correspondence pertaining to the raids and the municipal ID card program. DPS officials violated Connecticut FOI law when they did not attempt to procure these e-mails after Yale attorneys first filed their FOIA request with the DPS on July 12, commissioners wrote in their decision Tuesday.
After the FOI hearing, Yale attorneys said they hope the new documents will contribute to a chronology of the raids’ planning and execution, which they have already established through their own correspondence with ICE officials. Local and national media coverage of the municipal ID card program swelled in the middle of April, they said, and shortly thereafter, the DHS scheduled the raids for April 20.
In closing arguments before the commission, Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Henri Alexandre said the disclosure of federal files given to the DPS by the Department of Homeland Security would harm cooperation between state and federal agencies. He said federal and state Freedom of Information laws exempt the list of 32 individuals on one of the withheld documents from disclosure because of privacy rights.
“If federal and state agents cannot work together to share information that was particularly sensitive, they do so at the risk that a state FOI [commission] would force disclosure of what would otherwise be exempt form federal records,” Alexandre said. “This is the very situation that we have here.”
But Yale attorneys said that beyond providing speculative testimony last week, the DPS did not sufficiently prove that federal agencies would be less cooperative in the future. They pointed to a few recent Connecticut FOI commission cases in which the commission ruled in favor of disclosing federal documents, which afterwards caused no damage to the working relationship between state and federal agencies.
The attorneys also disputed the federal exemptions. According to Connecticut FOI laws, files in possession of the state should automatically be classified as state records, regardless of their origins, said Justin Cox LAW ’08, who also litigated the FOI appeal yesterday.
Speaking toward the end of the hearing, FOI Commission Appellate Attorney Vincent Perpetua said the DPS’ claim of privacy under state law was irrelevant because the state law exempts only government personnel — not the general population — from requests for personal information.
Because of the procedure’s expedited nature, Moshenburg said he is unsure how quickly the mandated files will be released.