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Organized Cmtys. Against Deportations v. ICE, No. 21-2519, 2024 WL 2053123 (N.D. Ill. May 8, 2024) (Blakey, J.)


Organized Cmtys. Against Deportations v. ICE, No. 21-2519, 2024 WL 2053123 (N.D. Ill. May 8, 2024) (Blakey, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning ICE’s “Citizens Academy” programs

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendant’s motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that “[w]ith respect to each of the four ICE components searched, the declarations describe in detail the search terms used, indicate that ICE’s search tool is not case-sensitive, and aver that ‘all locations likely to contain records responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA Requests’ were searched.”  “Plaintiffs argue that the search was inadequate because ICE failed to search key custodians . . . .”  “In response, . . . ICE states that Plaintiffs ‘are simply wrong about what ICE searched,’ because an [Enforcement and Removal (“ERO”)] analyst searched the ERO Chicago field offices shared drive and [the field office’s] emails, not only the emails of one particular analyst.”  However, “[Defendant’s] Supplemental Declaration suggests something different to the Court.”  “Regarding the ERO’s supplemental search on January 3, 2023, [defendant] cites to his initial Declaration . . . and states that the ‘analyst performed a search of the Chicago field office’s shared drive as well as searching emails.’”  “But according to [defendant’s] initial Declaration, the analyst searched only ‘his/her own sent and received emails[]’ . . . .”  “Thus, reading these declarations consistently, it appears that the ERO analyst searched only his or her own emails, not any one else’s at the ERO.”  “Although searching only one analyst’s emails does not render the search inadequate as a matter of law, here, ICE’s failure to explain its apparent decision not to search any other email accounts at the ERO – particularly in light of record evidence that ICE employees discussed Citizens Academy programs and solicited applications by email, casts doubt upon the adequacy of its search.”  “[T]he record here suggests that ERO employees’ email accounts, likely to possess responsive records, may have been overlooked.”  “Relatedly and compounding this concern, ICE did not act upon reasonable and obvious leads provided by Plaintiffs to discover relevant documents in the ERO.”  “Agencies have an obligation to ‘follow through on obvious leads to discover requested documents.’”

    “Beyond the ostensibly deficient search of the ERO, the Court finds that ICE has otherwise demonstrated that it has met its obligations to adequately search for records under FOIA, and remains unpersuaded by Plaintiffs’ other challenges based upon the record.”  The court finds that one office not searched was “‘not reasonably likely to have records responsive to plaintiffs’ FOIA request.’”  The court also finds that a search of other offices where responsive records may have been located “was comprehensive.”  The court relates that “Plaintiffs also take issue with the search terms, and search approach, ICE used.”  The court finds that “[t]hese challenges fare no better.”  “ICE’s search terms were reasonable.”  “On the whole, ICE’s search terms concerned the relevant subject matter and were designed to uncover all responsive records; any additional search terms used would have been superfluous.”  “Plaintiffs also argue that ICE employed a ‘haphazard’ approach, using different search terms for different offices.”  “So long as the searches are designed to retrieve responsive documents, however, using varied search terms does not automatically undermine the adequacy of a search.”
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection; Exemption 6; Exemption 7(E):  The court relates that “Plaintiffs challenge ICE’s withholdings and redactions under exemptions 6 and 7(E).”  “[T]he Court finds an in-camera inspection appropriate to determine whether ICE has properly invoked the FOIA exemptions.”  “Therefore, by June 12, 2024, the parties shall select a reasonably sized ‘representative sample’ of contested withheld or redacted documents . . . .”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(E)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspection
Updated May 31, 2024