Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is currently under internal investigation after the names, personal information, and immigration status of more than 6,000 migrants were posted on the agency’s website on Monday, exposing those fleeing persecution in their home countries to even more danger as they seek asylum in the United States.
By law, the sensitive information of those seeking protection in the U.S. is supposed to be kept confidential, unless approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
The agency maintains that the data breach was unintentional, but acknowledges the seriousness of the matter.
“Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.
Human Rights First, an immigrant advocacy group, alerted the agency nearly five hours after the names of asylum seekers were posted early Monday morning.
An attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center, Diana Rashid, expressed concern after finding one of the organization’s clients posted on the site.
“We are deeply concerned about our client’s safety after ICE publicly shared this very sensitive information about her and thousands of others like her,” she said. “She is seeking protection from removal because she fears persecution if returned to her country of origin. Revealing this information makes her more vulnerable to the persecution and abuses she fears if deported.”
“The U.S. government has a crucial obligation to hold asylum seekers’ names and information in confidence so they don’t face retaliation or further harm by the governments or individuals whose persecution they fled,” said Heidi Altman, director of human policy at the NIJC. “ICE’s publication of confidential data is illegal and ethically unconscionable, a mistake that must never be repeated.”
Human rights advocates are worried the breach will further endanger the lives of those fleeing oppressive and authoritarian regimes such as Iran, China, and Russia – particularly if they are deported.
ICE has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Accusations of civil and human rights abuses by the agency from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have shined a light on practices seen as abusive — detaining and deporting migrants without constitutionally protected due process.
President Joe Biden has taken a more human approach to how the federal government handles refugees. During the previous administration, it was revealed that nearly 1,500 U.S. citizens were wrongfully arrested and detained by ICE – some for years.
“You feel like your rights are stripped from you,” explained Davino Watson, a Jamaican native from New York who was wrongfully held for more than three years. “You feel hopeless.”
Intentional or not, the consequences of the breach could be deadly for many of those in ICE custody should they be refused asylum and deported.
“Any breach of asylum seeker information in such a public way could quite literally have life or death consequences and the government must take every precaution to protect their safety,” said Blaine Bookey – legal director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
Original reporting by Hamed Aleaziz at the Los Angeles Times.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick