Blog Archive

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Most Mexican nationals arrested in '06 Bellingham raid have left U.S.; Feds still won't release names of arrestees

The News Tribune
August 23rd, 2010

Nearly four years after the federal government raided a Bellingham business and arrested 26 alleged illegal immigrants, who they are remains a mystery to the public.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has finally provided basic details about what officials say are Mexican nationals who shouldn't have been in the country working at Northwest Health Care Linen. Most of them returned to Mexico - either voluntarily or by deportation - but the status of the other eight is unclear.

The lack of detail is a common back and forth debate between the media and federal officials, who spar over the right to information in a time when illegal immigration is at the forefront of national discourse.

At least one journalism advocacy group has called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement an extremely difficult organization to get information from, and that courts have been of little help to shine light on who is being arrested in immigration raids.

The local issue stems from an Aug. 30, 2006, immigration raid by ICE. At the time, officials refused to identify who had been arrested, saying they were "administrative arrests."

Homeland Security lawyers notified The Bellingham Herald in late July 2010 that a federal Freedom of Information Act request for the identities of those arrested - a request made Sept. 8, 2006 - was being finally and officially denied.

But after more questions from a reporter, Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa worked to provide more information, saying the records request was processed under a previous White House administration with different policies regarding requests.

There is information, Kudwa said, that could be released, but The Herald didn't ask for it. The previous policy would have been to respond only to the very specific information sought, she said.

The new administration, however, would work to provide related information that could be released.

Department officials have now provided the nationalities, ages, genders and immigration status of those who were arrested. No names will be provided, Kudwa said, because those are protected by federal privacy laws.

The details released still would not allow anyone to independently verify the status of the people arrested, if they're actually illegal immigrants, or if they're still in the country.

But they provide a snapshot into who was arrested that day, according to the federal government.

Sixteen women between the age of 20 and 50 who were citizens of Mexico were arrested. The majority returned to Mexico, either voluntarily or by deportation, the records indicate. One third of the women have not been deported, but it's unclear exactly where they are.

"Subject is out on bond and is not in ICE custody," the record say of one woman. The other five simply state "Subject is not in ICE custody."

Of the 10 men between the ages of 19 and 53 who were arrested that day, eight returned to Mexico, either voluntarily by deportation, according to Homeland Security. The other two are "not in ICE custody."

The federal government will not disclose to the media or the public what happens in immigration cases, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"They're never going to tell you who they got, no matter what, no how," Dalglish said. "They're going to throw everything they can at you. They're going to deny it under FOIA, they're going to deny it under any law they can, particularly because these folks aren't U.S. residents."

Dalglish said the issue isn't only about holding immigrants accountable, it's about the federal government, as well.

"It's an abomination," she said. "It allows for no public oversight of the immigration process whatsoever. We have no idea what the federal government is doing to these people, and they're hiding under federal laws under the guise of 'We're trying to protect these people's privacy.' They don't give a rat's butt about these people."