This week, almost two months after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) committed a serious data security breach, asylum seekers in detention are still waiting for answers. On November 28, 2022, ICE posted a public-facing document on ICE.gov that included the names, identification numbers, birthdates, locations, and other personally identifiable information of approximately 6,000 noncitizens in ICE custody. It is still unclear whether any additional “immigration information” was also leaked.
This data breach has raised security concerns for those seeking asylum who have experienced significant harm or torture in their country of origin and have come to the U.S. to find safety. The privacy rights of asylum seekers are protected under U.S. laws, and by violating these rights, ICE has exposed asylum seekers to the risk of retaliation and even death at the hands of their assailants.
“There are many unanswered questions about this data breach,” said Khatia Mikadze, Gallogly Family Foundation Public Interest Fellow at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition. “The government needs to take quick and appropriate action to provide well-deserved relief for the asylum seekers whose personal information was leaked to the public and, potentially, to their past and future persecutors.”
While the Department of Homeland Securities Office of Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) has offered various procedural alternatives (such as a temporary pause of their deportation order or the ability to seek additional forms of relief in front of the judge), many people affected by the breach do not fall within these brackets. They cannot directly benefit from these procedural alternatives.
Therefore, many asylum seekers affected by the data breach are stuck in an informational limbo. While these individuals may have received an official notice of data breach disclosure, they are unsure of their legal rights, the next steps in their immigration case, and the status of their removal orders. This is especially concerning for pro se individuals who do not have legal representation.
At least 20 immigrant clients from CAIR Coalition have been impacted. CAIR Coalition is closely monitoring impacted clients by this breach and is reaching out to other organizations to explore the best alternatives to secure relief.