Tag Archives: FOIA


By Heath Haussamen

A recent tweet from U.S. Immigrants and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed that the agency had arrested an Arkansas man on “child sex tourism charges.”

That arrest fit the narrative ICE spreads – that immigrants are criminals who need to be deported – so the agency released details.

But try to get information on a detained immigrant not wanted for any crime other than living in the United States without legal status, and you get a different answer. Last month, after four days of back-and-forth emails, an ICE spokeswoman told me the agency would release no information on a case I was asking about “absent a signed privacy waiver from the individual.”

For days, she said she was researching my request. She could have given me that answer from the start. That’s called being given the runaround.

Unfortunately, ICE and other immigration enforcement agencies are allowed to do just that.

Local and state transparency issues should be spotlighted during this year’s Sunshine Week. While New Mexico has some of the stronger state-level transparency laws in the nation, getting agencies to comply is often challenging.

At least at the local and state level we have recourse through the courts and law enforcement. But federal immigration enforcement agencies like ICE are not required to release information about people they’re detaining.

As The Texas Tribune recently reported, ICE “provides detailed immigration histories of ‘criminal aliens’ only when it chooses to — like after high-profile cases that spark local outrage. ICE refused, meanwhile, to give the Tribune identifying information about any significant slice of the immigrant population it detains, deports or releases — extending privacy protections even to nine of the state’s 12 undocumented death row inmates.”

That makes it really challenging to learn about what immigration authorities have been doing since Donald Trump became president – and whether arrests in Doña Ana County and elsewhere since he took over are “routine,” as ICE insists, or the military operation Trump claims.

Thanks to reporting by journalists and information from activists, we know that the numbers of people detained may not be higher than under former President Barack Obama, but there is a difference: Folks living in the United States without legal status but not otherwise wanted for a crime were usually left alone before. Now, it appears, agents are detaining such people.

Regardless of whether you agree with that, it’s a significant policy shift that affects people living in our communities and rips families apart. It deserves public scrutiny so people can hold elected officials accountable for what their government is doing.

The Boston Globe recently asked Trump to adopt a new level of transparency.

“President Obama should not have allowed this vast system to jail and deport people in secret, and you should not, either,” Globe editor Brian McGrory wrote to Trump. “We urge you to end this secrecy once and for all.”

The selective release of information is deceptive. Real transparency gives us access to data and people’s stories – all stories, not just those that fit a political agenda.

Officials with ICE have complained that reporting on recent arrests was erroneous, irresponsible and harmful. That’s crap. If you want us to report facts, give us facts. If you don’t, you’re to blame when you feel misrepresented. We’re doing our best to find the truth without your assistance.

We should all join the Boston Globe in demanding transparency from immigration enforcement agencies.

Haussamen, a Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter Board member from Las Cruces, runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government that seeks to inform, engage and build community. Reach him at heath@haussamen.com, on Facebook at /haussamen, or on twitter @haussamen.

It’s Sunshine Week, which is all about your right to know.  We’ll be rolling out all kinds of content on this site and on social media. This “Gray Skies” series will look at instances when officials, agencies and public institutions not transparent and evaded the disinfecting power of sunlight.

Shining A Light On Government: Sunshine Week 2017

Sunshine Week is coming up soon! The SPJ Rio Grande chapter will highlight the importance of the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) and access to government information from March 12-18, 2017.

Join us at Duel Brewing in Albuquerque for a kickoff event on Sunday, March 12. Tell us you’re coming on Facebook

And follow us on Twitter and Facebook for other local events and news.


Keep Seeking the Truth

The daily work of a journalist involves showing up at wildfires and crime scenes, interviewing experts and asking tough questions of elected officials. We also attend meetings and pore over all manner of documents, including email correspondence among public officials, meeting minutes and police records.

Access to meetings and records is crucial for journalists to perform one of their most essential tasks: seeking the truth about how government is conducting the public’s business. In New Mexico, that access is enshrined in the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act. Both laws ensure that journalists — and all citizens — can peer behind the curtains powerful people sometimes attempt to keep drawn in an effort to conceal acts of malfeasance, corruption, or incompetence.

The two laws mandate that state and local agencies allow journalists access to factual and firsthand information – information that hasn’t been manipulated to hide something or tweaked to fit a political agenda. The laws demand that kind of transparency because it’s critical to understanding what’s really happening in New Mexico’s communities.

It’s Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate the laws that give citizens access to their government and the important work of journalists.

In the past year, New Mexico’s journalists have used public records to illuminate issues from a massive shake-up in the state’s behavioral health system to the erosion of our groundwater protections. Reporters have scrutinized the way guards treat inmates behind closed doors in New Mexico’s jails and prisons and how state officials took advantage of per diem reimbursements. Using public records, journalists shone a light on controversial police uses of force against citizens and pieced together the way the treasurer’s office in the state’s largest county used a suspect broker to invest millions of the public’s dollars.

And in every community statewide, reporters attend meetings and carefully document the important discussions and decisions that impact all New Mexicans’ lives.

Unfortunately, state government often shields public records to protect its own interests. Within the past year, four media organizations and one government transparency nonprofit have sued the state, alleging it is blocking access to public records.

We often think of the media in terms of breaking news. But, to borrow an old phrase, the media also provide a first draft of history for our communities. Journalists offer a clear-eyed look at the challenges New Mexicans face, whether they are related to law enforcement, education, the environment, the economy, safety, or public health.

Sometimes, we tell stories that are difficult to hear. But in order to tackle tough problems and thrive in the years to come, citizens must know the truth. This year, during Sunshine Week, we challenge journalists—and all citizens—across the state to take advantage of the Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act to seek that truth. And we ask that agencies step up compliance with the laws. We’ll all be better for it.

This editorial is from SPJ’s Rio Grande Chapter Board of Directors.  It also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/reader-view-keep-seeking-the-truth/article_5b86ba7c-442c-5c5a-b239-167bc1ce2115.html