The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona claims the Department of Homeland Security simply ignored requests for public records on Border Patrol activities that took place well within the U.S. border.
The ACLU previously has alleged that such patrols amount to harassment of southern Arizona residents. The organization has claimed that residents driving as far away as 60 miles from the southern border have been stopped by Border Patrol agents, without any indication that the driver was coming from the border or doing anything illegal.
In January, an ACLU attorney and two attorneys from the University of Arizona law school filed the records requests, seeking information on these "roving patrols," including any documentation of policy, reports, organizational materials, records of any stops, and more.
ACLU officials say today that both requests were "completely ignored."
The federal lawsuit seeking the records notes that the New York Civil Liberties Union obtained information on similar patrols in that state through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The result of that request showed those patrols also took place far from the border, and about 1 percent of those stops resulted in immigration-related removal proceedings.
"The failure of DHS to produce the documents requested by Plaintiffs violates the FOIA and impedes Plaintiffs' efforts to educate the public on the many questions that remain regarding the full extent and impact of wide-ranging interior enforcement operations conducted by the largest law enforcement agency in the country.," the lawsuit states.
The ACLU's asking the court to order that DHS immediately process and release the records.
"We shouldn't have to go as far as filing a lawsuit to get these records," UA professor Derek Bambauer says in a statement. "This is public information about a matter of pressing public concern. We cannot allow DHS and Border Patrol to continue operating in our communities without being subject to public scrutiny."
The ACLU of Arizona has claimed that Border Patrol agents have interrogated pedestrians on the streets of Yuma and Tucson, and patients in Tucson-area hospitals.
In addition to the "roving patrols," the ACLU also filed a civil-rights complaint back in 2012, on behalf of 11 people who claimed various abuses at the actual ports of entry at the southern border. According to this lawsuit, the ACLU never received a substantive response to that complaint, leading them to believe, "DHS oversight agencies have not kept pace with Border Patrol's rapid growth and are ill-equipped to provide transparent and effective agency oversight and accountability for rights violations by agents."
Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.