The American Civil Liberties Union warned yesterday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sent a little tiny request to the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) asking for permission to adjust the timetable on which it decides to keep or destroy records. Ah, but it’s not just a routine adjustment for efficiency, no, not quite:
An entire paper trail for a system rife with human rights and constitutional abuses is at stake.
ICE has asked for permission to begin routinely destroying 11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody. Other records subject to destruction include alternatives to detention programs; regular detention monitoring reports, logs about the people detained in ICE facilities and communications from the public reporting detention abuses.
The records would be subject to differing timelines; records of sexual assaults or deaths in custody would be kept for 20 years, while ICE would like to scrub records on solitary confinement after just three years. You say you were abused while in custody? Oh. No record of that.
The ACLU notes the request to purge ICE’s records more frequently is “all the more disturbing” in light of the Trump administration’s plans to vastly expand detentions and deportations of those in the country without proper documentation. But why would you want to document government wrongdoing against undocumented immigrants, anyway? It’s not like they’re people with rights or anything.
Worse, NARA has already provisionally approved the agency’s request to destroy its records more quickly, with some pretty weird logic:
In cases of sexual assault and death, for example, NARA states that these records “do not document significant actions of Federal officials.” It’s hard to believe that the actions of a federal official are not significant in the death or sexual assault of an individual who is in federal immigration custody. NARA also posited that in cases of sexual assault, that the “information is highly sensitive and does not warrant retention.”
Twenty years may seem like plenty of time to keep such records, but given that the government routinely drags its feet with records requests when it’s accused of wrongdoing, and that it can take years to build legal cases, shouldn’t serious incidents be documented, like, forever? As the ACLU notes:
Recent reports by advocacy groups document sexual assaults in detention without adequate investigation or remedy, sub-standard medical care, the overuse of solitary confinement as well as threats and physical assault by custody staff. Since October 2016, there have been 10 deaths in immigration detention. Many of the records used in these reports and analyses would not have been made available without sustained public pressure to force ICE to maintain and divulge this information.
So now the New Cruelty not only wants to ramp up its heinous fuckery against undocumented migrants, it wants to send the records related to their detention down the Memory Hole. That just might be the last step in truly making them Unpersons.