WASHINGTON, D.C.— On Tuesday, Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Hank Johnson (GA-04) led 25 of their colleagues in a letter to officials in the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Code Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), to ensure that records documenting serious abuse, neglect, and misconduct within our immigration system are not destroyed pursuant to records disposal schedules approved by NARA.
“Without this evidence, we cannot protect the legal rights of victims and their families or empower Congress to fulfill its oversight and legislative functions. These documents are critical in our fight to shed light on an immigration detention system that is both shrouded in secrecy and rife with human rights abuses. We urge the Biden Administration and NARA to take immediate action to ensure that this critical documentary evidence is not erased from history,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter comes as NARA – the federal agency responsible for collecting, maintaining and destroying (when appropriate) all federal records and documents – has approved three disposal schedules authorizing ICE to destroy records related to misconduct and abuse. A federal judge has already invalidated one of these records schedules. In the ruling, the judge wrote that NARA, “failed to evaluate the research value of the ICE records” and “failed to address significant and relevant public comments.”
“For Congress to effectively perform its oversight and legislative functions, it is essential that the government permanently retain records reflecting serious abuse, neglect, and misconduct in our immigration system. Retention of such records is necessary to protect the legal rights of victims and their families, to identify recurring trends or patterns of abuse over time, to facilitate meaningful oversight of the agencies’ activities, and to inform the type and scope of potential legislative efforts. The records thus have considerable long-term value due to, among other things, their ‘anticipated use . . . by the Government,’” the congressmembers continued.
In addition to Congressmembers Tlaib and Johnson, the letter was signed by: Reps. Karen Bass, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, André Carson, Judy Chu, Steve Cohen, J. Luis Correa, Theodore “Ted” Deutch, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Raúl Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Pramila Jayapal, Mondaire Jones, James P. McGovern, Grace F. Napolitano, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, Mary Gay Scanlon, Albio Sires, Mark Takano, Juan Vargas, and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s push, which began under the previous Administration, to destroy en masse potential evidence of wrongdoing by the Department and its agencies represents a direct attempt to cover up criminal behavior and impede Congressional oversight,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. “This cannot stand. Victims deserve justice, predators deserve accountability, and the American people deserve answers. The documents that DHS, ICE, and CBP want to destroy are critical to obtaining all three of these objectives. I am proud to stand with my colleagues against this blatant attempted coverup and will continue to fight to ensure that any and all DHS records are preserved.”
“Donald Trump’s immigration policies were an exercise in cruelty, purposefully using abuse and neglect as deterrents for immigrant families,” said Congressman Hank Johnson. “As we pursue accountability for injustices done against detained people, it’s critical that we preserve evidence and documentation of all misdeeds. It’s clear the National Archives and Records Administration must protect these documents to ensure necessary oversight.”
The full text of the latter can be found here.