Focus on Freedom of Information

Mark Tapscott, Knight Ridder Tribune, Jan. 31

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By law, illegal aliens convicted of heinous crimes—rape, murder, child molestation—are to be deported once they’ve served their jail terms. But lately, thousands of them have simply been let go. And Justice Department officials have refused to release a government database that could help journalists and private citizens find these aliens.

No one knows exactly how many of these criminals there are nationwide, but Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau journalists Eliot Jaspin and Julia Malone examined Georgia state prison records in 2002 and found numerous cases like convicted pedophile Miguel Angel Gordoba. He served a four-year sentence for molesting a 2-year-old girl in Alma, Ga., then disappeared following his release.

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After finding so many cases in Georgia using state records, the Cox reporters decided to look at federal data to get a better idea of the scope of the problem. They submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs seeking an electronic copy of all records collected on alien inmates in the government’s Grants Management System. The GMS funds are used by Washington to reimburse state and local governments for the cost of incarcerating illegal aliens like Gordoba.

The Justice Department refused to provide any of the data sought by Jaspin and Malone. Why? For three reasons, according to Rachal Madan, Office of Justice Programs’ general counsel: (1) the grants data are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA because it concerns matters “of internal significance in which the public has no substantial interest,” (2) processing the data “would place an unjustifiable administrative burden” on the Office of Justice Programs, and (3) releasing the data would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of (the convicted illegal aliens’) personal privacy.”

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