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INS Issues Rule Governing Release of Detainee Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Personal information regarding Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detainees will be handled in a uniform manner, under an interim rule submitted for publication in the Federal Register. The rule, which took effect April 17, 2002, ensures that all detainee information will be handled in accordance with Federal law, including the Freedom of Information Act, regardless of whether the detainee is housed at a Federal, state, or local facility. Approximately half of INS’ 19,000 detainees are held in state and local facilities while facing removal and immigration court proceedings.

Unlike federal law, the laws of some states may not adequately accommodate vital national security, law enforcement, and privacy concerns. This rule, which takes effect immediately and covers all pending and future requests for detainee information, will cover all INS detainees being housed temporarily at the facilities on behalf of INS. The rule clarifies that officials at non-federal detention facilities will not release information relating to detainees, reserving the decision for release of such information to INS.

As recent events have made clear, information regarding certain federal detainees is extremely sensitive; disclosure of that information could provide terrorist organizations important information that could threaten the national security and the lives of American citizens.

Disclosure of the identities or related personal information about certain detainees could reveal intelligence and investigative methods, sources, and witnesses as well as the direction, progress, and scope of an investigation, and thereby assist terrorist organizations in counteracting investigative efforts by the United States government. Further, the detainee could be subjected to intimidation or harm, thereby discouraging him or her from supplying valuable information or investigative leads in the future.

The need for the rule was highlighted by a New Jersey court order requiring county officials to release information regarding federal detainees pursuant to state law.