In a significant victory for immigrant rights, Milbank LLP is pleased to announce that the Union Pacific Railroad Police (“UPRP”) has severed its relationship with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), following a demand letter prepared by a Milbank pro bono team and co-counsel American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (“ACLU SoCal”) on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups. In addition, ICE has agreed to settle a related Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) lawsuit filed by Milbank and ACLU SoCal.
UPRP, a security force for Union Pacific Railroad property across 23 states, in recent years has collaborated with ICE to detain individuals on or near UPRP’s property whose citizen status was in question and transfer them into ICE’s federal custody.
In September 2018, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, the Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic, Public Counsel, and the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project filed a FOIA request seeking records around ICE and UPRP’s relationship, which had been shrouded in secrecy and raised substantial constitutional concerns.
The Milbank pro bono team, led by partner Robert Liubicic and associate Alexandra Achamallah, then filed a lawsuit with ACLU SoCal in March 2019 after ICE failed to turn over the requested records. The lawsuit sought a declaratory judgement finding that ICE’s actions were unlawful and ordering the agency to conduct a search and provide its findings.
Concurrently, the pro bono teams submitted a demand letter to UPRP on behalf of the coalition of immigrant advocacy groups, pointing out the constitutional violations of the secretive collaboration and demanding that UPRP terminate its relationship with ICE. The advocacy groups detailed several unlawful detentions undertaken by the UPRP, including those of several homeless individuals, a woman who was experiencing mental health issues and a man who had been riding his bicycle home from work.
As a result of the coordinated efforts of the immigrant rights coalition, Milbank and ACLU SoCal, in May UPRP announced it adopted a new policy that would sever its relationship with ICE. Moreover, on July 27, ICE separately agreed to pay $15,000 in attorneys’ fees and settle the FOIA lawsuit.
The Union Pacific Police’s new policy prohibits its officers from asking about immigration status, ordering individuals to produce immigration documents, or using suspected immigration status to determine whether to confront, detain or arrest an individual. Additionally, officers may not contact a federal immigration agency to report an individual and will abstain from any joint law enforcement whose sole purpose is to identify, detain or deport undocumented individuals.
Ms. Achamallah said: “The documents obtained through this FOIA litigation confirmed an unlawful collaboration between UPRP and ICE. Under UPRP’s new policy, its officers may no longer use racial profiling to confront individuals based on suspected immigration status and then report the individuals to ICE.”
Mr. Liubicic added: “The Union Pacific Police’s policy changes represent a victory for immigrants that have been targeted by unlawful policies. We are proud to have partnered with ACLU SoCal and immigrant advocacy groups to achieve this victory.”