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Secret arrests? Not if we can help it

It is a hallmark of a free society that the people know who is arrested, why, and what the charges are. The Obama administraion holds, incredibly, that the people should not have a right to know whom the federal government arrests. The Union Leader Corp. challenged this secrecy, and last week we won on appeal in federal court.

Here is the story. In September 2011, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a nationwide roundup of illegal immigrants who had criminal convictions or arrests. It was both a law enforcement and a public relations event. ICE issued press releases boasting of the sweep, dubbed “Cross Check.” It even released videos of arrests made in Boston, Los Angeles and other big cities. The names of some of those arrested were included in press materials.

As part of the public relations effort, ICE announced the arrest of several illegal aliens in New Hampshire. But the agency would not release their names. This newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request to compel the government to release the names. The administration refused, and we sued.

ICE claimed that to release the names would violate the privacy rights of those it was boasting of arresting and deporting. But if the public cannot know who was arrested, how can it check the government’s claims that the arrests protected the public? Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st District sided with us and ordered the government to release the names of six illegal aliens arrested in New Hampshire.

Though we are happy with the ruling, we remain dismayed that our own government went to such lengths to block the release of public information that would shed light on how well one agency was doing the job it boasted of doing. The self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history” actively tried to deny the press the ability to independently verify the administration’s public relations claims. It should not have taken a court order to create the transparency we requested.

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