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National Immigrant Justice Center v. Department of Homeland Security(NIJC v. DHS), No. 1:12-cv-05358, 2015 WL 433580 (N.D.Ill. July 9, 2012) is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in which NIJC sought contracts, as well as inspection reports dating back to 2007, for immigration detention facilities in use by ICE. The lawsuit was filed after DHS failed to respond to NIJC’s administrative FOIA request, filed on April 27, 2011. The lawsuit challenged DHS’s failure to respond under the FOIA statute, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a). On February 1, 2015, the District Court judge presiding over the case granted summary judgment in favor of NIJC and ordered DHS to respond to NIJC’s FOIA request.

Background on DHS Detention:

On any given day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains thousands of immigrants in its custody in a nationwide patchwork of facilities, both state and privately run. Despite wide coverage in the media over the past 15 years questioning problematic conditions of detention, the expansion and overuse of detention, and the manner in which DHS enters into contracts to detain immigrants, the immigration detention scheme—a billion-dollar enterprise - remains largely hidden from public scrutiny. The limited information that ICE does provide to the public has been produced only as a result of other FOIA lawsuits. Further, the information presently available on ICE’s FOIA Library is outdated and incomplete. This lack of transparency results in a lack of accountability in the immigration detention system.  

Background on NIJC’s FOIA Litigation Regarding ICE Detention Contracts and Audits:

Given the lack of comprehensive public information regarding ICE’s immigration detention contracting and inspections, on April 27, 2011, NIJC filed an administrative FOIA request with DHS seeking this information. NIJC’s FOIA specifically requested all contracts that ICE has entered into with governmental and private entities to hold noncitizens in its custody for facilities currently in use at the time of the request. NIJC’s administrative FOIA request also sought any and all audits, inspections, and ratings of ICE detention facilities for the period between FY 2007 and FY 2012. 

Over one year later (following a brief administrative appeal), having received no response from DHS to its FOIA request, NIJC, represented by the Chicago-based law firm, Dentons US LLP, filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that DHS had failed to respond to its April 25, 2011, administrative FOIA request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a).

In the course of litigation, NIJC narrowed its request to approximately 100 facilities believed to cumulatively hold the majority of noncitizens in DHS custody.  After more than 3 years of litigation, the federal judge presiding in the case granted NIJC’s motion for summary judgment and ordered DHS to respond to NIJC’s FOIA.

Throughout the course of litigation, DHS produced thousands of pages of documents relating to ICE detention contracts and inspection reports. The entirety of ICE’s response has been posted to NIJC’s Immigration Transparency & Human Rights Project. These include:

  • 90 full ICE detention contracts and four partial contracts
  • The deposition of the witness designated by ICE to provide expert testimony on ICE’s practices for producing and storing contracts
  • ICE inspection reports for 105 immigration detention facilities
  • The deposition of the chief of ICE’s Detention Monitoring Unit, providing an overview of the immigration detention inspection process

Legal documents:

NIJC's original FOIA Request, April 27, 2011

NIJC v. DHS FOIA Complaint, July 9, 2012

DHS Answer to NIJC’s Complaint, January 15, 2013

District Court order granting summary judgment in favor of NIJC, ordering DHS to respond to NIJC’s FOIA request, February 1, 2015