[Photo: US Government Works/Wikimedia Commons]

Obama staffers deleted speeches about the immigration crisis hours before Trump’s inauguration

Marcus Baram

In the last hours of the Obama administration’s time in office, staffers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed hundreds of speeches and testimonies dating back to 2004 from the agency’s website, according to a watchdog group.

The transcripts contained “prepared remarks submitted to congressional committees, often on controversial topics like the standard of medical treatment for detainees, treatment of unaccompanied children, sanctuary cities, drug trafficking, and E-Verify,” according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project. The group says they were removed between the early afternoon of January 18 and late evening of January 19 in 2017, mere hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump.

“With a couple of clicks of a mouse, access to a federal government web resource containing 12 years of primary source materials on ICE’s history was lost,” notes the group in a blog post.

Given the heated coverage of the immigration crisis at the Mexican border, it’s notable that the scrubbed speeches included testimony from Thomas Homan, then executive assistant director of enforcement and removal operations who was appointed acting director of ICE by President Trump soon after his inauguration.

In a February 2016 statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the “Unaccompanied Children Crisis,” Homan described how the agency used contractors to “effectuate” the transportation of “UC” (unaccompanied children) and detailed the “important steps” the Obama administration had taken to “deter illegal immigration.” In another transcript removed from the site, Homan described how local jurisdictions that chose to limit or decline “cooperation with ICE” put “the public at risk.”

As the Web Integrity Project notes, considering the partisan wrangling over the immigration crisis, “it is not inconceivable that an outgoing Democratic administration might want to avoid preserving these public stances for future scrutiny.” But it remains unclear why those transcripts were removed.

A rep for ICE did not return a request for comment.

Some of the transcripts were available elsewhere online, such as the Government Publishing Office and the Department of Homeland Security, but others were not. The Sunlight Foundation found that “we were unable to track down a large number of the speeches,” detailing its efforts in this spreadsheet and emphasizing the importance of web archiving by outgoing administrations.