SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., November 12, 2008—Today a coalition of immigrants' rights organizations asked a federal judge to compel the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to disclose information about a program under which it removes non-citizens from the United States without hearings before immigration judges. The program, called "stipulated removal," has resulted in the removal of over 96,000 non-citizens since its inception.
The Stanford Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic (IRC), together with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the ACLU of Southern California (ACLUSC) and the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco (NLGSF) filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to gain access to agency records about stipulated removal from DHS and its sub-agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The lawsuit also seeks access to records from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
Stipulated removal allows the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to remove a non-citizen, even one with valid defenses against deportation, as long as the non-citizen signs an order. DHS appears to target non-citizens in immigration detention for stipulated removal, and does not allow the non-citizen to appear before a judge prior to being deported. Advocates have expressed concerns that immigrants signing these orders do not realize they are giving up their rights to challenge their deportation.
In the lawsuit, NLGSF et al. v U.S. DHS, the plaintiffs note that news reports, Congressional testimony, and agency press releases reveal that the DHS and DOJ have broadly implemented stipulated removal on a nationwide basis for at least 12 years. However, DHS and DOJ have failed to produce records that reflect the full scope of stipulated removal's implementation, and the select information DHS and DOJ have divulged to date provide a "strong indication that other documents have been improperly withheld."
"DHS is running a federal program that has resulted in the deportation of almost 100,000 people without legal hearings, and yet the public knows very little about the program," said Jayashri Srikantiah, director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. "Stipulated removal raises serious due process concerns because immigrant detainees may not know that they are signing away their rights, and no judge ever speaks to the detainee to ensure that they understand the process." The lawsuit comes after two FOIA requests in December 2005 and February 2008 yielded only minimal information. According to data that was released under those FOIA requests by the DOJ's Executive Office of Immigration Review, that office entered 96,241 stipulated removal orders between October 1999 and June 2008.
Karen Tumlin, Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, observes: "DHS has revealed close to nothing about a program that impacts thousands of immigrants' due process rights. The stipulated removal program gives detained immigrants an impossible choice: sign away your rights or stay in detention."
"Immigrant detainees may be refugees or have U.S. citizen family members," said Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU of Southern California staff attorney. "The public should know whether DHS is pressuring these detainees to give up their right to a hearing."
"Stipulated removal appears to target the most vulnerable parts of the immigrant population," observed Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild – San Francisco Bay Area. "Immigrant detainees often lack the money to pay for lawyers and bond money to get out of detention."
Jennifer Lee Koh, Cooley Godward Kronish Fellow with Stanford Immigrants' Rights Clinic, said: "Before DHS further expands its implementation of stipulated removal, the public should know whether the program satisfies basic due process requirements. Immigrant detainees should know exactly what they are giving up when they sign a stipulated order."
Students in the Stanford Immigrants' Rights Clinic participated in drafting the FOIA requests and the complaint filed today.
For more about stipulated removal, see Backgrounder: Stipulated Removal -- Federal authorities are deporting immigrants without hearings, but the public knows very little about the program.
A copy of the complaint filed today in federal district court is available here.