The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has joined its affiliates in New Hampshire and Vermont in suing the federal government for records of immigration actions in the three states.
The groups say they are concerned civil liberties violations are occurring as part of increased immigration enforcement under the Trump administration. In Maine, for example, the local ACLU was among those who criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detaining a Somali asylum seeker in a Portland courthouse last year. Immigration advocates and attorneys have opposed arrests carried out at courthouses, saying the practice deters immigrants from seeking justice.
“We think these known incidents are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Emma Bond, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Maine.
In September, the three affiliates filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They requested records of detentions and other enforcement actions in their states, as well as communications with local law enforcement and businesses. In the eight months since then, they have received little information in response. The lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks to force the release of more records.
“We’re all seeing these types of concerning enforcement actions in each of our states, and we’re always stronger together,” said Emma Bond, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Maine.
A representative of the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on pending litigation.
Bond said the department acknowledged the receipt of the FOIA request last year. So far, the groups have only received one page of information – a chart with statistics about immigration removals or returns in New England. However, the definitions and data in that chart are both unclear.
“If this shows anything, it just shows that there are hundreds of enforcement actions that these defendants are undertaking in our states, and there should be accompanying records for those,” Bond said.
The lawsuit also mentions the deportation of Otto Morales-Caballeros, a Naples man who was detained on his way to work last year and returned to Guatemala. It cites news stories about citizenship checks in the other two states, as well as the arrests of immigrant activists in Vermont and the possible deportation of a group of Indonesian immigrants in New Hampshire.
In Trump’s first 100 days in office, ICE announced it arrested more than 41,000 immigrants, up nearly 40 percent from the same period in the previous year. While the majority of those people had criminal records, including gang members and fugitives wanted for murder, the largest increase was among immigrants with no criminal records.
In the complaint, the ACLU groups also contend that New England saw an even bigger spike in arrests – 58 percent – during that initial period of Trump’s presidency. More recent data were not available Tuesday.
This lawsuit is separate from one filed by the ACLU of Maine last week. In that case, the Portland-based group had asked for and not yet received records of citizenship checks at major transportation hubs in Maine.