Federal Judge Says Illegal Aliens' Privacy Trumps Public's Right to Know
Federal judge says illegal aliensí privacy trumps publicís right to know
Oct 1, 2005
by Mark Tapscott ( bio | archive | contact )
A federal District Court Judge has ruled that the privacy rights of illegal aliens convicted of heinous crimes in this country are more important than the publicís right to know if the government is properly enforcing a key immigration law.
Amazing as the ruling itself may be, what is even more stunning is the fact that U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard J. Leon was affirming the Bush administrationís position in the case. President Bush nominated Leon in 2001 and the Senate confirmed him in February 2002.
Leonís Sept. 27 ruling was in response to an appeal by Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau of the Justice Departmentís refusal to make public information and data about thousands of aliens convicted of serious crimes in virtually every state.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are required by federal law to escort these criminals out of the country as soon as they are released from jail, but a 2002 investigation by Cox found hundreds who were released from Georgia jails but not deported.
Despite having been convicted of crimes like murder, rape and armed robbery, the aliens who served time in Georgia jails were simply let go, free to roam the country and possibly commit more crimes.
Cox reporters Eliot Jaspin and Julia Malone knew the federal government reimburses local and state governments for much of their expenses in jailing convicted illegal aliens, so the journalists filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department, seeking names and other information about the released criminals. Justice refused, claiming release would violate the convicted aliensí privacy rights.
Cox appealed in 2003 because Jaspin and Malone believed, based on what they found in Georgia and the amount of money spent every year by Washington reimbursing lower level governments, that there could easily be thousands of cases across the country like that of convicted pedophile Miguel Angel Gordoba, who served a four-year sentence for molesting a 2-year-old girl in Alma, Ga., then disappeared following his release.
There are also concerns that there could be sleeper-cell terrorists among those released who came here in recent years and were subsequently convicted of crimes as they awaited orders to carry out their deadly plans.
Cox argued in its appeal, according to Judge Leon, that disclosure of the information would ďÖ help determine whether governmental agencies are effectively communicating with each other in the management of the incarceration and removal of criminal aliens," and that "the public benefit of government oversight in this instance outweighs the privacy interests ÖĒ of the convicted aliens.
Leon's response? "I disagree." He held that ďthese privacy interests, and the privacy intrusion associated with disclosing this information clearly outweighs the public disclosure of this information."
Leon further argued that that criminal aliens have "a substantial personal privacy interest" in their FBI case numbers and that interest also outweighs the public's interest in being able to assess the performance of government officials required by the law to meet criminal aliens when released from jail to escort them out of the country.
This decision defies logic and common sense. How can somebody who is not even a U.S. citizen have rights that outweigh the most fundamental right of every American to know if the government is enforcing the law properly? Criminal records are public documents in every state. Many states publish the names and addresses of sex offenders. But facts about murderers, rapists and thieves who arenít citizens canít be published?
As unbelievable as Leonís decision is Ė and I pray he is reversed on appeal - it would never have been delivered if the Justice Department had not given Cox so much unnecessary difficulty on its FOIA request in the first place.
Unfortunately, this case is too typical of the experience journalists too often have in seeking official documents, data and other government records that ought to be available under the FOIA. Virtually all of the approximately 3-4 million FOIAs sent to the government every year are handled only by career bureaucrats, not by political appointees of elected officials like Bush.
So nobody should be surprised that career bureaucrats at the Justice Department arenít eager to release documents that will embarrass career bureaucrats in the immigration agency who failed to escort those criminal aliens out of our country.