The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to force the release of government records on the arrests of Central American immigrants in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.
The lawsuit accuses the agencies of violating public records law by failing to promptly release documents sought by the center in a Jan. 7 open government request.
More than 100 women and children were arrested by the agencies and placed in a Dilley, Texas detention center and all but 12 families were deported. The Southern Poverty Law Center said the arrests of the women and children at their homes in the U.S. were carried out without warrants on Jan. 2 and 3.
The families are among tens of thousands of Central Americans who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in summer 2014, forcing DHS to open emergency shelters and crowding Border Patrol facilities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, said in a statement the records would show how and why ICE pursued the 121 people arrested.
"There are serious questions about whether ICE agents' conduct during these raids violated the Constitution. We cannot allow ICE, the nation's largest law enforcement agency, to avoid accountability and violate the federal law by withholding these records," Lisa Graybill, the centers deputy legal director said in a statement.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the agency does not comment on matters in pending litigation.
The complaint follows statements made last week at a national gathering of black and Hispanic journalists that the Obama administration has done poorly in opening immigration documents and information to reporters.
It also comes amid calls for greater accountability from law enforcement following police shootings of African Americans and the deaths of five police officers in Dallas, who were fatally shot by a gunman following a Black Lives Matter protest march.
Police shootings of Latinos and immigration enforcement actions by federal and local law enforcement have also created some tension in the Latino community.
In its complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, the center stated that during the arrests ICE entered several homes without getting lawful and voluntary consent. They allege officers used deception, saying they were police officers looking for a criminal suspect and showing photos of an African American man. In some cases, the agents said they were taking immigrants into custody to examine ankle bracelets on the women, but then detained them.
The center said when immigrants who were targets asked for warrants, their requests were ignored and the immigrants were threatened or were ordered to be quiet.
The center said in its complaint that ICE had granted many of the immigrants who were arrested permission to be in the U.S. and the immigrants had complied with orders to check in with ICE or wear ankle bracelets.
The members of the 12 families not deported had insisted on speaking to a lawyer while they were detained, the center said.
The law allows ICE 20 days and a 10-day extension to determine whether it will comply and to notify the filer of the open government request of the decision.