Identities of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in US published in error

Immigration and Customs Enforcement mistakenly released the names and other identifying information of 6,252 migrants seeking protection in the United States this week, the agency said Wednesday. The mistake raised concerns for their safety among asylum seeker advocates.

The list, which was posted on the ICE.gov website for several hours Monday and reviewed by The New York Times before being deleted, contains the migrants’ dates of birth, identification numbers, the detention center where they were held and when they were booked there. 63 Russians have been identified. Chinese, Iranians, Mexicans and Venezuelans were among others on the list.

More than 30,000 immigrants are currently detained, with a significant number seeking asylum after fleeing persecution in their home countries. Asylum seekers are accommodated in hundreds of facilities across the country. The list that was published did not include the names of all the asylum seekers and the premises where they were held.

Under federal regulation, immigration officials are “generally” prohibited from disclosing any information about asylum seekers and their applications to third countries, largely to protect migrants and their families from retaliation by government authorities and others in their home countries.

“When people come to the United States seeking protection, they trust the U.S. government. When a violation like this happens, it shows a reckless disregard for their safety,” said Lindsey Tochilowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders, a California nonprofit law firm that serves asylum seekers.

“This puts people at serious risk if they are sent back to countries where their pursuers may have seen this information,” she said.

Lawyers representing asylum seekers said the data breach could have a chilling effect, making those deserving of protection less likely to trust the US government with sensitive information.

Ali Bolour, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, said his clients seeking protection are often traumatized and must be reassured repeatedly that their personal information “will be shared with the US government and no one else.”

Ellora Mukherjee, a law professor at Columbia University, said the violation could also harm family members of asylum seekers in their home countries and called on the Biden administration to act to allow migrants to remain in the United States. , as the revelations could have “life or death consequences” for them.

“Family members who remain in the home country may face retribution from their government, gangs and other persecutors,” said Ms. Mukherjee, director of the law school’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. “The Biden administration must take swift remedial action — releasing these individuals from custody and offering meaningful protections that would allow them to remain in the United States.”

IN statement released Wednesdaythe US immigration agency said its staff “mistakenly published” the list while making routine updates, and that the information about the migrants, all in its custody, was online for about five hours before it was removed.

Anuen Hughes, lawyer at Human Rights First, told The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that it hopes the breach will remind the government to be more careful with sensitive data.

In an email, the US immigration agency said the release of the data was a violation of its policy and that it was investigating the matter and “taking any necessary corrective action.”

The agency said it uploaded a spreadsheet with the information Monday morning and was notified of the error that afternoon by the nonprofit Human Rights First. The agency said it deleted the information about 11 minutes after it was notified it was online.

The agency said it is notifying affected migrants and their lawyers so they can assess whether it will affect their claims for protection in the United States. The agency said it was also taking steps to ensure it would not take further action on the cases of those migrants before making that decision.

He said he is also monitoring the Internet to see if the information is being reposted and will use IP addresses to identify who accessed it. Those people, the agency said, will receive notices asking them to destroy all copies of the information.

Many detained asylum seekers are transferred to ICE facilities after they cross the southern border and claim asylum in the United States. They were shackled and flown to detention centers in states like Louisiana and New York.

The migrants are in removal proceedings because they entered the country illegally and are trying to convince a judge to grant them asylum while they are incarcerated. Their cases are considered in an accelerated procedure. If they lose, they are ordered deported.

ICE allows some migrants to be released after posting bail, which can exceed $30,000, allowing them to pursue their cases while living in the country. But many migrants cannot raise the money that must be paid upfront in full.

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