American Oversight and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts filed a brief today in support of an ongoing lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the release of records concerning the prosecution of a Massachusetts state judge, including the emails and text messages of seven senior agency officials.
During the Trump administration, ICE had a “standard practice … to factory/reset/securely wipe/destroy and delete all contents of mobile phone devices as they were being taken out of service,” the agency admitted in a recent filing. The new American Oversight and ACLU brief asks the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts to require ICE to provide more information about this apparent “practice” of intentionally destroying the text messages senior officials sent on their government-issued devices, and to conduct additional records searches.
“The federal government cannot be allowed to openly flout its Freedom of Information Act obligations to release records,” said Melanie Sloan, senior adviser at American Oversight. “Deleting records and resetting devices in contravention of the law is unacceptable and ICE must be held accountable.”
In November 2019, American Oversight and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a FOIA request for communications between senior ICE officials and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts regarding the prosecution of state court judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph, who was indicted by federal authorities in 2019 for allegedly allowing a criminal defendant to exit using the rear door of the courtroom to evade ICE detention.
The FOIA request followed a New York Times report in which Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE at the time of the incident, said that he was informed about the incident the same day it happened, and “immediately” initiated a response within ICE’s senior leadership team. After ICE failed to produce any records, American Oversight and the ACLU of Massachusetts filed this lawsuit in May 2021.
Though the agency has since produced some documents, it has not released any records related to Homan’s April 2018 actions. The FOIA request seeks all records concerning the incident, including communications between Homan and Matthew Albence — then ICE’s executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations — and any guidance or directives provided to then-U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling.
Documents produced by ICE in October 2021 include an email that showed top ICE attorney Tracy Short asking if Joseph’s arrest would be the “first of many.” On the day of Joseph’s indictment, Short wrote to senior ICE leadership, “This is a great day.” ICE Chief of Staff Thomas Blank simply responded, “Blessed.”
This lawsuit is a part of American Oversight’s ongoing efforts to uncover the full extent of the misconduct and abuse of power under the Trump administration and to hold those responsible accountable. More information on American Oversight’s investigation into the previous administration’s efforts to undermine sanctuary cities is available here. For more on American Oversight’s investigations of immigration-related issues, visit our immigration archives.
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