Pasadena civil rights law firm Hoq Law, ACLU SoCal, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Los Angeles for allegedly wrongfully withholding documents related to the ICE practice of releasing people when their death is imminent, court says. papers obtained on Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April to obtain the records after news outlets reported that ICE released people from their deathbeds, allowing the agency to avoid reporting their deaths to the public, avoid an investigation and avoid medical costs for those in its custody, alleges the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court.
The FOIA request went unanswered for more than 60 days, according to the ACLU.
ICE did not immediately provide a response.
“The public has a right to know about ICE’s disgraceful patient dumping practices,” said Michael Kaufman, a senior attorney with the ACLU SoCal. “The federal government cannot escape responsibility for the life-threatening health conditions suffered by those in its custody.”
The lawsuit also seeks the records of four people who suffered illnesses while in ICE custody and died shortly after being suddenly released.
They include Martin Vargas Arellano, 55, an ACLU SoCal client who was released three days before his death last year, according to the lawsuit.
After his release, ICE did not report his death, and Vargas Arellano’s own family and attorney did not learn of his death until weeks later after filing a missing person report, plaintiffs say .
“ICE’s practice of formally releasing people from custody at the eleventh hour, before they die, is unconscionable,” said Eunice Cho, senior counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
“The agency now keeps invaluable records of these practices away from public view, consistent with its culture of secrecy,” she said. “The public deserves to know the truth about what is happening and those detained by ICE deserve accountability and change.”