Records held by the state public safety department detailing a raid by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement must be disclosed pursuant to a state information act request, the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission unanimously ordered Nov. 8.
According to the commission’s order, even though several documents were prepared by federal agencies, they were still governed by state law because the state’s Department of Public Safety received and retained the records. Furthermore, because the documents were kept in state files, they were deemed “public” and subject to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.
The requested records originate from an immigration raid conducted by federal authorities in New Haven in June. The sweep was part of a larger action dubbed “Operation Return to Sender,” according to documents by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, designed to round up “fugitive aliens with outstanding warrants of removal/deportation in the state of Connecticut.”
Throughout the process, from planning days prior to the raid through its execution and follow-up, federal agencies continued sending materials about the effort to state public safety officials.
The commission’s order compels the release of a number of previously withheld documents, including an operational plan with logistics, coordinating instructions and a list of names and identifying information for 32 individuals arrested in the raids.
Names of those arrested and detained in immigration enforcement actions are notoriously difficult to obtain through federal FOIA requests, so the disclosure of this information through state public records laws represents a relatively novel approach. In fact, an attorney for the state argued that this new path for uncovering federal records would leave federal agencies feeling burned and unlikely to cooperate with state and local officials in subsequent investigations.
But third-year Yale Law student Simon Moshenberg, who along with fellow student Justin Cox, headed up the effort seeking the release of the records via the school’s legal services office, said that in building their case for disclosure they found many examples of local, state and federal information sharing subject to public records laws, especially with the involvement of the FBI, without a detrimental effect down the road.
“It sounds like this is all new and scary because it’s immigration and it’s Homeland Security, but in fact this is no different from what the FBI has been doing in this state for decades,” Moshenberg said.
Under Connecticut law, the state has forty-five days in which to appeal the commission’s decision to the superior court.