Who’s being held in immigration detention centers?
A lawsuit filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this week hopes to shed more light on that, asking for information like the demographic breakdown of detainees and internal inspection records of all detention facilities.
But the goal of the suit, filed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data gathering organization based at Syracuse University, is about much more than just getting this information.
“We’re trying to establish the principle that they have to give us data,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. “We’ve been negotiating with them for years at the administrative level.”
Since 9/11, the flow of information from federal agencies like ICE has tightened, and courts have backed them up. That includes aggregate data that doesn’t identify individuals by name.
The rationale is something legal scholars call the “mosaic theory.” The idea is that tiny bits of information might seem innocuous, but when used collectively, could be a threat to national security.
Perhaps the most notable example of information-turned-dangerous goes back to the trials over the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which some say help enabled the 9/11 attacks. During the trial, U.S. government intelligence-gathering methods were made public.
The mosaic theory has existed in case law since 1972, but was more aggressively employed by the Bush administration and continues to be applied by the Obama administration, according to Charles N. Davis, professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.