Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sought approval from the National Archives and Records Administration to destroy records on deaths and sexual assaults of individuals in its custody after a period of 20 years.
ICE needs NARA’s approval before changing its treatment of detainee records. And NARA officials preliminarily approved the move, Splinter reported Tuesday. The outlet noted that public comments on the change will be accepted through Sept. 7.
The Federal Register published a summary of the request on July 14. The pro-transparency platform The Memory Hole 2 published documents related to the request last week. Splinter and the ACLU flagged it in reports this week.
A NARA appraisal found the proposal to destroy records related to detainee deaths after 20 years “[a]dequate from the standpoint of legal rights and accountability.”
“The period ensures that individuals and organizations who may wish to obtain the review files have many years to request them from the Agency,” it added.
A spokesperson for NARA was more straightforward with Splinter. The appraiser, spokesperson Laura Sheehan said, recommended approving the request because “these files do not meet our appraisal criteria for permanently valuable records.”
“The legal rights of individuals documented by these records do not continue indefinitely, and the records do not document significant actions of Federal officials that are not captured elsewhere,” she said. Splinter noted there have been 10 confirmed deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year.
Files on sexual assault and abuse, the appraiser wrote, do “not document actions of Federal officials,” a key condition of records worth preserving, from NARA’s standpoint.
“This information is highly sensitive,” the appraisal continued, “and does not warrant permanent retention in the National Archives. ICE creates annual reports on incidents or allegations of sexual abuse or assault of individuals in ICE custody.”
However, Splinter noted that the “reports” mentioned in the appraisal “are often summaries written by ICE officials and may not include thorough details of every reported case of sexual assault.”
The report noted that a watchdog group, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, found that only 24 complaints of sexual abuse out of 1,016 were investigated, of those filed between May 2014 and July 2016.
“Even 20 years is far too short for keeping the record of a death or sexual assault of an individual in government custody,” Senior ACLU Staff Attorney Victoria Lopez wrote Monday.
She added: “If the Trump administration has its way, the number of immigrants in detention will increase, detention conditions will deteriorate further and more people will be subjected to life-threatening circumstances and denied their most basic rights. ICE shouldn’t be allowed to purge important records and keep its operations out of the public eye.”
The federal summary of proposed changes noted that ICE had additionally requested changing the schedule for destroying records related to escapes, “telephone rates charged to detainees, alternatives to detention, logs and reports on status of detainees and detention facilities, and location and segregation of detainees.”