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Long v. ICE, No. 17-1097, 2021 WL 3931879 (D.D.C. Sept. 2, 2021) (Mehta, J.)


Long v. ICE, No. 17-1097, 2021 WL 3931879 (D.D.C. Sept. 2, 2021) (Mehta, J.)

Re:  Request for production of twenty-seven fields of data on immigration removals related to ICE's Secure Communities enforcement program

Disposition:  Granting defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  "[T]he court credits ICE's explanation of how the disputed fields are produced and further concludes that such production requires the creation of new records."  As pertinent background, the court relates that "[p]reviously, ICE responded to [FOIA requests for this same information] 'by providing computer extracts furnished as Excel spreadsheet files derived from [ICE's Enforcement Integrated Database ("EID")].'"  "Although the spreadsheets were derived from the EID, ICE did not query the EID itself in searching for responsive records; instead, it searched the Integrated Decision Support System ('IIDS'), a snapshot of a subset of data from the EID that is updated three days a week."  "The spreadsheets 'contained fields of information and data elements that corresponded to at least some of the separately numbered requests.'"  "But in January 2017, in response to Plaintiffs' FOIA request for data covering fiscal year 2015 through August 2016 ('August 2016 Request'), ICE withheld many of the fields that it had previously provided in response to Plaintiffs' requests covering earlier, overlapping time periods – including a virtually identical request submitted by Plaintiffs several months earlier, which covered fiscal year 2015 through December 2015."  As further background, the court relates that "DHS's Secure Communities Program – which ran from 2008 to 2014 and was revived from 2017 to 2021 – required ICE to report which of its detainers and subsequent immigration removals resulted from an interoperability match."  "To comply with this reporting requirement, ICE engaged in a multistep process."  "First, to ensure the continued integrity of the EID, ICE relied on an imported copy of the EID's data in the IIDS, its data warehouse system for reporting, analytics, and queries."  "Next, ICE ran a 'correlation analysis' consisting of multiple 'complex matching algorithm[s]' that attempted to link the removals and detainers in the IIDS with particular interoperability queries."  "The algorithms utilized, among other elements, fingerprint identification numbers and various biographical data of the individual subject to the removal/detainer."  "The linked enforcement events were then aggregated and eventually packaged into the 'Secure Communities (SC) Removals Report.'"  "Although production of the SC Removals Report was not required between 2014 and 2017 . . . ICE continued running the correlation analysis voluntarily as part of its responses to Plaintiffs' periodic FOIA requests for SC Program data."  "'[I]n the context of an SC removal,' however, 'the [disputed] fields don't exist.'"  "More concretely, to produce those fields, ICE must build upon what is available in the SC Removals Report."  "ICE would need to run a 'secondary analysis' of the underlying data in the SC Removals Report against the broader IIDS removals dataset."  "That analysis requires additional complex correlations and calculations to establish connections between various data points across the two sources."

    Against that backdrop, the court finds that "[c]ourts in this District have recognized that 'sorting a pre-existing database of information to make information intelligible does not involve the creation of a new record because . . . computer records found in a database rather than a file cabinet may require the application of codes or some form of programming to retrieve the information.'"  "Here, however, to produce the disputed fields, ICE must do more than simply sort through information using preexisting connections – it must create many of those connections in the first instance."  "As one of the agency's declarants explains, to fulfill Plaintiffs' requests, ICE analysts must 'create new data combinations' and sub-combinations that 'do not automatically connect to each other in the ICE database.'"  "As [certain examples provided by defendant] demonstrate, the production of the disputed fields requires ICE to manufacture complex and often imprecise connections between otherwise facially unrelated data in the IIDS."  "Because constructing those connections requires the agency to go beyond merely 'sorting . . . information to make [it] intelligible,' . . . or 'writing new computer code to locate responsive records,' . . . production of the disputed fields is tantamount to the creation of new records."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests
Updated September 21, 2021