Washington — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have continued to violate the Federal Records Act (FRA) by failing to create records linking immigrant families and failing to establish an adequate agency-wide records management program, according to an amended lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).
According to the original lawsuit filed by CREW in October, DHS failed to make and preserve adequate documentation of thousands of children and parents taken into its custody, and, consequently, has been unable to reunify each of the families it separated. DHS also falsely represented to the public its ability to track the thousands of parents and children harmed by its Zero Tolerance Policy.
“Rarely, if ever, has an agency’s violation of its statutory recordkeeping obligations had such grave implications, and we are proud to have RAICES join our suit against DHS,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “We know that the Trump Administration continues to carry out family separations despite their repeated failures to meet basic record-keeping requirements mandated by federal law. It is crucial that DHS be compelled to follow the law to avoid further catastrophic impact on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, including the permanent separation of children from their families.”
The lawsuit notes that family separations are still being carried out despite President Trump’s June 2018 Executive Order purportedly halting the practice. The suit also alleges that the FRA requires DHS to maintain records sufficient to link children with their non-parental family members and companions with whom they were apprehended at the border. Notably, Trump’s June 2018 Executive Order applies only to children and their parents, not to children who arrive with other family members. RAICES is the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas and has been working with families directly impacted by the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.
“Families continue to be separated while others have yet to be reunited,” said RAICES Attorney Manoj Govindaiah. “DHS’s negligence has led to the devastation of countless lives. The pain of losing a loved one is one of the worst feelings imaginable, but permitting a loved one to simply ‘get lost’ to the system is unforgivable. Thankfully the law forbids this type of gross mismanagement. We’re looking forward to the court holding DHS and Secretary Nielsen accountable for these unacceptable, and completely preventable, failures.”
Following a complaint from CREW, the National Archives and Records Administration opened an investigation into DHS’s apparent violation of the FRA. Earlier this month, CREW filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with DHS to understand the record management program DHS says is being used to bring families back together. In a second FOIA request, CREW asked for documents related to the process of identifying and tracking minors taken into custody, and documents about the creation of a “Central Database” and “Matching Table” used to reunited families. DHS has yet to respond to these requests.