Council Sues Immigration Agencies for Records of Enforcement Databases


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) relies on various systems for its operations. DHS components U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) use the complex network of databases, information systems, and data sharing methods to carry out immigration enforcement.   

What is important about immigration agency databases?  

CBP and ICE are just two of DHS’ twenty-two component agencies yet account for nearly one-third (29 percent) of the Department’s budgetTogether, CBP and ICE have hundreds of thousands of interactions with people throughout the United States each year. The data agents rely on, and collect, during enforcement operations is of interest to the public yet remains difficult to access. The agencies maintain records and data that it chooses not to proactively disclose. As a result, the public must rely on a few tools, such as the Freedom of Information Act, to obtain information from the agencies 

Too often, requests for information are not successful since requestors may not understand the complicated network of databases and record-keeping systems maintained by ICE and CBP. Important data and information about the agencies’ operations and enforcement practices are left in the shadows, unattainable to the public seeking to hold the government accountable. 

Why were Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed? 

The Council filed Freedom of Information Act requests with CBP and ICE to uncover information about the agencies’ databases. With more detailed information, the public could file records requests that are more specific, accurate, and successful.  

The March 5, 2021 FOIA request sought CBP’s Corporate Data Dictionarywhich includes standard terms and definitions used in CBP dataand a list of all CBP databases 

The March 15, 2021 FOIA request sought ICE Law Enforcement Systems and Analysis (LESA) Division presentations on ICE databasesa list of all ICE databasesthe tables and fields contained in the Enforcement Integrated Database (EID); and the codebook for the EID. 

The American Immigration Council filed the lawsuit against DHS, CBP, and ICE in District Court for the District of Columbia 

What Records Did the Government Release?  

Neither agency produced a comprehensive list of all information systems or databases. Both CBP and ICE referred the Council to Department of Homeland Security websites with privacy compliance documents. The CBP and ICE websites list Privacy Impact Statements (PIAs) for law enforcement technologies or systems that handle or collect personally identifiable information.  

As of ICE’s response, the agency last updated its Privacy Documents list on November 3, 2021. 

As of CBP’s response, the agency last updated its Privacy Documents list on September 10, 2021.   

The Council compiled known databases and information systems related to immigration law enforcement, using DHS privacy and compliance documents such as PIAs and System of Records Notices (SORNs). 

For details on these databases, see the comprehensive list here: Understanding Immigration Enforcement Databases

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