FOIA: Estrella del Paso (DMRS) vs. ICE

FOIA: Estrella del Paso (DMRS) vs. ICE

In June 2019, following the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols program (MPP) in the El Paso area, Estrella del Paso (then operating as Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to better understand the program and therefore better represent individuals in the MPP program. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to respond to the FOIA request. As a result, in August 2019, Estrella del Paso filed a federal lawsuit against ICE hoping to compel their response to the FOIA request. After the filing of the lawsuit, ICE released to Estrella del Paso 38 pages of mostly redacted information.

On October 5, 2020, Estrella del Paso vs. ICE went to trial in the U.S. District Court Western District of Texas wherein United States Federal District Judge, Frank Montalvo, ruled in favor of Estrella del Paso and ordered ICE to release the un-redacted documents. During the trial, Estrella del Paso, through our attorney, Christopher Benoit, argued that 38 pages of documents did not represent a thorough search of ICE records given the tens of thousands of individuals in the MPP program. Judge Montalvo found ICE’s search to be inadequate, and he additionally ordered ICE to conduct a new search.

On October 19, 2020, following a bench trial by Judge Montalvo, ICE was ordered to release un-redacted documents related to the MPP program to Estrella del Paso. The documents confirmed the suspicions of immigration advocates regarding the true intention of the MPP program. Additionally, the documents further included an acknowledgement by the Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf, that the MPP program, commonly referred to as “Remain in Mexico”, alone would not stem the flow of migrants from Central America.

“Despite a memo from Mr. Wolf indicating the program would be unsuccessful, the Trump Administration chose to pursue a program that has resulted in the suffering and in some cases, torture, of individuals forced to wait in Mexico while trying to seek asylum in the United States,” said Melissa M. Lopez, Estrella del Paso Executive Director.