For Immediate Release
Federal Agencies Have Stymied Access to Records Showing Impact of Texas-Mexico Border Wall
Public Citizen Argues That Delays and Denials Violate Freedom of Information Act
allow the public to determine the full impact of the 700 miles of fence
being built along the Texas-Mexico border, Public Citizen argued in a suit filed in U.S. district court today on behalf of a member of the University of Texas (UT) Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall.
Denise Gilman, a clinical law professor at UT, submitted a Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) request in April for records that would show
where the fence would be built, including maps, surveys and appraisals
of affected properties. She also requested information about the
criteria for deciding where segments of the wall would be built and
agency assessments of the impact of the wall on surrounding communities.
Almost a year later, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS),
the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers have not complied with Gilman's request. Despite initial
indications that the agencies possessed volumes of records responsive
to Gilman's request, the corps of engineers denied part of her request
outright and released only a few documents with substantial redactions.
DHS referred her entire request to CBP, which released a mere two
redacted documents in December. On Jan. 30, CBP told Gilman that it was
still processing her request despite a federal requirement that it
respond to her April request within 20 days.
UT's Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall was formed to
study and investigate the impact of the wall on property owners,
indigenous communities and the environment. A full analysis is
difficult without the documents showing where the wall will be built
and the criteria on which those decisions were made.
With what little information is available, researchers have found
significant differences in the income and race of property owners whose
land will be affected and those who will not. For example, news outlets
have reported that the wall will skip a wealthy country club on the
border while having a devastating impact on some poorer neighborhoods
and Native American communities.
"The Working Group at UT believes that the information we are
seeking is necessary to allow a serious look at this massive border
wall project moving forward at great expense to taxpayers, likely in
the billions of dollars," Gilman said. "We sincerely hope that the
Obama administration, which has pledged greater transparency and
accountability in government, will release the requested documents so
that informed debate and consultation regarding the border wall can
take place before there is any further construction."
The Working Group at UT is launching a Web site
to make the limited information available about the wall more publicly
accessible. The site provides information gathered and prepared in the
process of analyzing the human rights impacts of the border wall,
including the limited FOIA responses received, other primary and
secondary source materials, and the Working Group's own analyses.
"The refusal to respond to Professor Gilman's requests in a timely
manner and each agency's referral to another agency for a response
constitute blatant disregards for the requirements of the Freedom of
Information Act," said Margaret Kwoka, the Public Citizen attorney
representing Gilman. "These agencies should not be allowed to move
forward with a project of such a scale and impact without being
accountable to the public."
In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of
Columbia, Public Citizen asks the court to order the agencies to make
the requested records available to Gilman. The suit also challenges the
redactions taken in some key documents, including information about
property ownership in affected areas.
Public Citizen is representing Gilman as part of its Public Interest
FOIA Clinic, which was launched last year and is designed to give
comprehensive assistance to other nonprofit organizations seeking
government-held information. Through the clinic, Public Citizen
provides direct FOIA litigation assistance to public interest
organizations. Public Citizen also collects and analyzes information
about recent FOIA litigation conducted by public interest organizations
to identify and address common FOIA problems.
READ the lawsuit.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.