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Rights groups call for investigation: U.S. relies on unreliable information in immigration screening and adjudications

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August 9, 2023: Access Now joined human rights, privacy, and civil liberties organizations in calling for an investigation into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) reliance on unreliable information from foreign governments in enforcement practices and immigration proceedings. The complaint details the ways in which DHS increasingly obtains and uses information from a growing number of foreign sources, and provides stories of people directly impacted by the opaque data-sharing programs. 

The complaint, filed with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), focuses on U.S. data-sharing programs involving El Salvador, with a focus on the country’s deteriorating human rights situation documented by annual U.S. State Department reports. The United States maintains various data-sharing agreements and programs with the government of El Salvador. These programs allow for a steady stream of unsubstantiated information to enter databases used by U.S. immigration enforcement agencies. 

The data-sharing agreements between the United States and El Salvador facilitate sharing names and biometrics data with U.S. authorities of people accused of committing a crime or affiliating with a gang. However, those accusations often are a form of political persecution, in which people are targeted by law enforcement based on prejudicial evidence and unfounded allegations. When Salvadorans flee, the unsubstantiated information is used by U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to hinder access to asylum and other forms of relief. Although this information results in severe rights deprivations, individuals rarely have a meaningful access to review or rebut the information used against them. Asylum seekers have been deported back to El Salvador without a chance to dispute or challenge the veracity of the evidence presented against them. Back in El Salvador, people have been arrested, imprisoned, and subject to further abuse. 

DHS using unreliable data in immigration proceedings violates fundamental human rights, endangers countless lives, and risks perpetuating systemic abuse. We support a thorough investigation to ensure that no individual is unjustly denied asylum based on unreliable data-sharing agreements. We also call on DHS to promptly terminate its data-sharing agreements with El Salvador and other countries in Central America. Franco Giandana Gigena, LATAM Policy Analyst, Access Now

The data-sharing agreements between the United States and El Salvador facilitate sharing names and biometrics data with U.S. authorities of people accused of committing a crime or affiliating with a gang. However, those accusations often are a form of political persecution, in which people are targeted by law enforcement based on prejudicial evidence and unfounded allegations.

When Salvadorans flee, the unsubstantiated information is used by U.S. immigration enforcement agencies to hinder access to asylum and other forms of relief. Although this information results in severe rights deprivations, individuals rarely have a meaningful access to review or rebut the information used against them. Asylum seekers have been deported back to El Salvador without a chance to dispute or challenge the veracity of the evidence presented against them. Back in El Salvador, people have been arrested, imprisoned, and subject to further abuse.

In order to protect the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers, the U.S. government must review its foreign data-sharing programs and terminate those that result in systematic rights violations. Congress and government watchdogs should investigate the harms caused by the reliance on foreign data sharing programs and end the cycle of abuse that occurs as a result. Jesse Franzblau, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center

The complaint argues that relying on unreliable data provided by Salvadoran authorities violates U.S. regulations and DHS procedures, and urges CRCL to recommend DHS take immediate measures to curb the cycle of abuse. Read the explainer here.