LINCOLN, Neb. – Four years ago, advocates documented reports of mistreatment and potential civil rights violations during a high-profile immigration raid in and nearby O’Neill, Nebraska. Authorities took 133 people into custody in a sweeping raid based on warrants for 17 people — an operation that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska criticized for glaring failures to provide detainees with adequate food, water, shelter and language interpretation services. Today, work to bring accountability continues.
This morning, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a new lawsuit that aims to force the public release of information related to the raid.
The ACLU of Nebraska is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG), requesting a judicial order that would compel the office to release records related to its investigation of whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents violated the rights of people they detained.
The ACLU of Nebraska’s lawsuit comes after initial collaboration with the OIG, which is supposed to provide independent oversight of immigration enforcement activities among other responsibilities. ACLU of Nebraska concerns led the OIG to open an investigation and interview affected community members, but officials never shared the results of that investigation.
In the summer of 2020, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a public records request for information related to the investigation. The OIG initially said it anticipated providing a response within 20 days, then it cut off contact. Officials have now ignored efforts to check on the status of the request for more than two years, prompting the ACLU of Nebraska to take the issue to the courts.
Jane Seu, an ACLU of Nebraska attorney, said federal officials have failed to meet their legal responsibilities under federal law.
“There is no such thing as accountability without transparency,” Seu said. “ICE agents conducted this raid, tearing a community apart while using public dollars, and the public has a right to understand what the investigation into that raid looked like and whether any agents faced consequences for any substantiated concerns. Federal law outlines clear requirements on responding to public records requests, and it’s troubling we have to turn to the judicial system to compel officials to follow the law.”
The ACLU of Nebraska frequently relies on public records to advance its work on a range of civil rights issues. Its most recent public records lawsuit, a collaboration with Nebraska news media organizations, came to a successful end two years ago.