EXCLUSIVE: DHS Can’t Account for 10 Libyan Men It Caught and Released Inside U.S.

April 22, 2011 - 1:47 PM

President Barack Obama and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in L’Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (AP photo/Michael Gottschalk)

(CNSNews.com) - Even as President Barack Obama continued the U.S. military intervention in Libya’s civil war--with armed Predator drones beginning patrols over that North African country on Thursday--U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the division of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for enforcing immigration laws, could not account for 10 Libyan men it had caught and released inside the United States since July 2009.

After two weeks of inquiries about the Libyans from CNSNews.com, ICE finally responded on Thursday afternoon that it had already released to CNSNews.com all the information that was “available” on these Libyans and that the agency had “nothing more to add on the matter.”

ICE describes itself as “the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government.” It says its “primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.”

The information about the unaccounted-for Libyans derives from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that CNSNews.com filed with ICE on Dec. 1, 2010. This FOIA request asked for records about non-Mexican foreign nationals processed by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

On Jan. 28, 2011, ICE responded to the FOIA request by providing CNSNews.com with two Excel spreadsheets including information about 286,769 non-Mexican foreign nationals processed by the agency over the two years. One Excel spreadsheet contained information on 143,543 non-Mexican aliens processed by ICE in fiscal 2009, and another Excel spreadsheet contained information about 143,206 non-Mexican aliens processed by ICE in fiscal 2010.

The Excel spreadsheets did not include the names of the aliens, but did include eight columns of information about them. These columns included: 1) the “book in” date on which the alien had been detained, 2) the “book out” date on which the alien had been released from detention, 3) the ICE geographical “area of responsibility” in which the alien had been detained, 4) the alien’s "case status,” 5) the alien’s “case category,” 6) the alien’s date of birth, 7) the alien’s gender, and 8) the alien’s country of citizenship.

In all 286,769 cases, ICE had redacted the unnamed alien’s date of birth from the version of the database released to CNSNews.com citing the (b)(6) and (b)(7)(C) exemptions under FOIA. As ICE explained in a letter to CNSNews.com, these exemptions allow the government to withhold information from a FOIA response if releasing it would be an “unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

Generally, the spreadsheet entry for an alien detained by ICE included information in each of the other seven columns. For example, the first alien listed in the database is a 1) female, 2) Nicaraguan, 3) booked in by ICE on Oct. 29, 2008, 4) in the St. Paul, Minn. area of responsibility, 5) who was booked out on Nov. 19, 2008, 6) whose “case category” was “[8C] Excludable / Inadmissible--Administrative Final Order Issued,” and 7) whose “case status” was “8-Excluded/Removed--Inadmissibility.”

The spreadsheets also generally indicated when an alien had been granted some form of relief or given permanent resident status in the United States. For example, a Honduran man detained in the San Antonio area on April 8, 2009 and held in custody until Sept. 16, 2009, was marked as having a case category of “Excludable/Inadmissable,” but after his case was adjudicated by an immigration judge, his case status column was marked “L-Legalization--Permanent Residence Granted.”

Tomahawk missile

The U.S.S Barry fires a Tomahawk missile at Libya on March 19, 2011. (U.S. Navy, Fireman Roderick Eubanks/AP)

The spreadsheets included a total of 27 citizens of Libya who were processed by ICE in 2009 and 2010. All 27 were men.

The spreadsheet entries for 15 of these 27 Libyan men had information in all seven columns, showing when they had been booked in, when they had been booked out, and what had happened to their cases.

The spreadsheet entries for another two of the Libyan men do not make clear if they were ever booked out. One of these two, who was booked in by ICE on July 25, 2009, in the Buffalo, N.Y. area, had a five-digit number --“40050”—in his “Book Out Date” column.  His “Case Category” and “Case Status” column were left blank.

The other of these two, who was booked in by ICE on Sept. 30, 2009 in the Denver, Colo. area, had a blank in his “Book Out Date” column as well as blanks in his “Case Category” and “Case Status” column.

The remaining 10 Libyan men were shown in the database as being both booked in by ICE and booked out--but what happened to their cases after they were booked out was not indicated. Their “Case Category” and “Case Status” columns were blank.

What happened to these men? Where did they go? How did the U.S. government resolve their cases? ICE is saying it has provided the information that is “available” on these Libyans and has “nothing more to add on the matter.”

Eight of these 10 Libyan men were detained in states that border on Canada or Mexico—two in Seattle, Wash.; two in San Diego, Calif., two in Houston, Texas; one in Detroit, Mich.; and one in Phoenix, Ariz.

The other two were detained in cities that are home to major international airports—one in Newark, N.J. and the other in Miami, Fla.

Between April 7 and April 21, CNSNews.com repeatedly asked ICE in writing and by telephone to fill in the blanks on these 10 Libyans who--according to the spreadsheets ICE provided to CNSNews.com--had been caught and released by the agency in 2009 and 2010. Could ICE say what had happened to them?

CNSNews.com also asked ICE whether the Libyan man arrested on Sept. 9, 2009 in the Denver area was still in custody considering that the “Book Out Date” in ICE’s spreadsheet was blank in his case.

In an April 21 e-mail, ICE Spokesperson Ernestine Fobbs responded for the agency, saying: “What we released in our FOIA is what is available. We have nothing more to add on the matter.”

The day before, on April 20, Fobbs had told CNSNews.com by e-mail: “We are working to get you a response today. We should definitely have something in the morning.”

CNSNews.com had first asked about the missing information in the spreadsheets on the Libyans in an April 7 e-mail to Fobbs and ICE Spokesperson Gillian Brigham. That afternoon Fobbs responded by email to say ICE was working on getting answers but would not have them ready for a deadline that day.

The next day, Friday, April 8, Fobbs sent an email stating that ICE was “in the process of working on your request. We estimate a response time of five working days. You will be notified when the response is ready.”

On April 13, Fobbs informed CNSNews.com via email that “we are still working on your request” and asked CNSNews.com to provide the “cover sheet” that ICE had mailed to CNSNews.com when it originally provided the Excel spreadsheets in response to CNSNews.com’s FOIA request.

On April 18, Fobbs sent an email to CNSNews.com saying she had received the cover letter and that CNSNews.com would be notified “as soon as I receive a response.”

On April 20, Fobbs e-mailed CNSNews.com that ICE was working on a response and would contact CNSNews.com “immediately” when it was ready. Later on April 20, Fobb sent the e-mail saying ICE was “working to get a response today. We should definitely have something in the morning.”

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 21, 2011, Fobbs e-mailed CNSNews.com that ICE was “still working on your response.”

Also on Thursday afternoon, CNSNews.com spoke by telephone with ICE Spokesperson Brigham and asked her why ICE could not answer the questions over the course of two weeks about what had happened to the 10 Libyans. Brigham told CNSNews.com that ICE had “thousands” of requests for information from the press.

When asked why CNSNews.com should not publish a story reporting that ICE could not say what had happened to the 10 Libyans, Brigham responded that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Office (ERO) was “still researching” the information to respond to CNSNews.com.

Later Thursday afternoon, ICE Spokesperson Fobbs responded via email to CNSNews.com’s questions about the caught-and-released Libyans.

“What we released in our FOIA is what is available,” said Fobbs. “We have nothing more to add on the matter.”

The 10 Libyans in question include:

--A Libyan man booked in on July 7, 2009 in the Newark, N.J, area and booked out on July 17, 2009.

--A Libyan man booked in on Dec. 28, 2009 in the Seattle, Wash., area and booked out on Dec. 31, 2009.

--A Libyan man booked in on Dec. 28, 2009 in the Seattle, Wash., area booked out on Dec. 31, 2009.

--A Libyan man booked in on March 25, 2010 in the Detroit, Mich., area booked out on March 26, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on May 14, 2010 in the Phoenix, Ariz. Area booked out on May 18, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on May 18, 2010 in the Miami, Fla., area booked out on June 4, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on May 21, in the Houston, Texas, area booked out on May 21, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on June 2, 2010 in the San Diego, Calif., area booked out on June 2, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on Sept. 13, 2010 in the San Diego, Calif. Area booked out on Sept. 13, 2010.

--A Libyan man booked in on Sept. 21, 2010 in the Houston, Texas, area booked out on Sept. 21, 2010.

ICE also did not provide any additional information on the Libyan man booked in in the Denver, Colo., area on Sept. 30, 2009 and for whom the spreadsheet did not list a book-out date or case category or status information.

(To see the Libyan subset of the ICE Excel spreadsheet of non-Mexican foreign nationals it processed in the United States in fiscal 2009 click here. To see the Libyan subset of the ICE Excel spreadsheet of non-Mexican foreign nationals it processed in the United States in fiscal 2010 click here.)