Will New FOIA Amendments Make it "Easier, Faster, Cheaper" to Obtain Immigration Data?

By Dan Cadman on July 5, 2016

Here's a hoot: Barack Obama, the chief executive of our least transparent administration in decades — if not in the history of the country — has just signed into law a revision of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that he says will make it "easier, faster, and cheaper" to obtain information from the federal government.

Sounds good, but after seven-plus years of this administration, I'm not buying that any more than I would a "good used car from a previous single owner in West Virginia".

Time and time again, we have seen the government twist itself Gumby-like to avoid providing information about matters of public interest or importance: most recently with regard to the 911 calls made to police by Omar Mateen of Orlando terrorist massacre infamy. First there were the absurd redactions of reference to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and ISIS, and then the FBI letter to local sheriffs and police advising them not to give up the recordings, even though doing so was apparently required by the Florida state constitution.

Certainly, not providing information has been the rule where the administration's immigration policies are concerned. Here are a few nuggets:

  • Under this administration, the entire Yearbook of Immigration Statistics has been transformed by leaving out the number of "denials" of immigration benefits, thus eliminating possible criticism from both the left and the right and hiding the figures under the blanket of obscurity.

  • Victims of illegal alien crime, seeking information about the perpetrators of those offenses, have repeatedly been told that they are not entitled to the data because it would violate the "privacy" of those aliens — even though FOIA requires it, and the federal Privacy Act clearly excludes all nonimmigrant and illegal aliens from the scope of its coverage (see here and here).

  • Political appointees at DHS have been accused of manipulating and ignoring FOIA requests with the purpose of ensuring that embarrassing information either does not reach the public eye, or is finessed into its least damaging form. One of the key figures in this effort was John Sandweg, later promoted to become director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). After his departure he was infamously quoted as saying that for "a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen."

  • Sandweg's predecessor at ICE, John Morton, was forced to protest that he had not "cooked the books" on deportation figures after it was revealed that the agency was "adopting" Border Patrol removals in an effort to boost their numbers — statistics that even Obama was obliged to acknowledge were "a little deceptive".

  • Recently, the Department of Homeland Security nominated for a prestigious Secretary's award the supervisor who impeded agents trying to locate San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, but refused to say exactly what she did to deserve it even though there is no rational basis not to provide the information.

  • DHS also recently declined to provide Senate Judiciary staff access to file information as a part of their effort to document whether, and how many, immigrants have been involved in terrorist acts, attempts, or support.

It all comes down to this: When an administration is hell-bent on ignoring the law, it doesn't make a whit of difference what law is on the books. The Obama White House didn't comply with the old FOIA provisions. Why on earth would we believe they will abide by the new ones?