(Millicent Wong/Democracy Forward)
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Public Affairs has been disclosing the immigration status of individuals accused of crimes to anti-immigrant media outlets Fox News and Breitbart. In one, Fox News reporter Alex Pappas emailed a DHS official touting a Fox story about an Iraqi man accused of shooting a police officer. The DHS official was quick to chide Pappas for not emphasizing to the public that the man was a refugee. “The news here,” the official wrote, “is that he is a refugee. It is not mentioned. That is new.” The Fox News story was soon updated to include a lengthy disclosure from DHS about the man’s immigration and criminal history, including his refugee status.
In another email, a DHS official reached out to reporters to share information about an individual’s immigration status in the event that the reporters decided to write about the individual.
And a Breitbart reporter, John Binder, contacted DHS to inquire whether a man accused of sexually abusing a child may have been living in the country unlawfully. In a potential violation of longstanding privacy protections, then-DHS Deputy Press Secretary Katie Miller (née Waldman) replied: “Off the record – is a USC [U.S. citizen].”
Not only is this practice a potential violation of long-standing rules to regulate DHS’s use and dissemination of personal information, but it is also an abuse of power by DHS to promote Trump’s narrative that immigrants are criminals. In sharing this information, DHS officials may have violated the Privacy Act of 1974 and their own policies, which forbid disclosure of refugees’ personally identifiable information.
“If DHS is illegally sharing protected information with conservative media outlets as part of a deliberate attempt to further an anti-immigrant narrative, that would be an egregious misuse of power. DHS is a national security agency, not the Breitbart research team.”
-Aman George, Legal Policy Director
After obtaining this evidence through a Freedom of Information Act request, we’re calling on DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate. We sent our letter on May 11, 2020.