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April 30. 2013 7:54PM

Federal judge rules criminal alien names aren't for public to know

The Union Leader Corp. is not entitled to the names and addresses of six convicted criminal aliens arrested in New Hampshire during a government crackdown called Operation Cross Check in 2011, a federal judge ruled, arguing their privacy outweigh the public's right to know.

"Because the Union Leader has not explained how more would be revealed about the government's conduct during Operation Cross Check if the names and addresses were disclosed, I conclude that any additional information that could be gained from disclosure of the names and addresses is merely speculative and does not outweigh the individuals' privacy interests," U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro wrote in his ruling dismissing the newspaper's lawsuit.

Attorney Gregory Sullivan, who represented the Union Leader Corp., was disappointed the judge didn't compel the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release the information.

"I believe secret arrests to be dangerously un-American," Sullivan said in an email after the decision. "Unfortunately, all of the federal judges who have dealt with arrests by ICE do not share this opinion."

Sullivan said the newspaper is reviewing its legal options.

Joseph W. McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and the New Hampshire Sunday News, called the decision "juridical rubbish."

"We need the names of the arrested to see how the government, ICE, is doing its job. We need to know how many times ICE may have arrested the same Juan Doe and then recommended no bail or low bail or dropped the charges entirely," McQuaid said in an email.

Judge Barbadoro disagreed.

"The Union Leader does not argue that the disclosure of the names and addresses of arrestees would directly reveal anything about the way in which the government is conducting Operation Cross Check," the judge wrote in his 17-page decision. "Instead, it argues that the public interest would be served if the information is disclosed because the public might be able to use the names and addresses to discover additional relevant information.

"I am not persuaded by this 'derivative use' argument because the Supreme Court has recognized that such arguments must be based on more than '(m)ere speculation about hypothetical public benefits,'" the judge said in the decision, dated April 18.

An ICE spokesman, Ross Feinstein, Tuesday would not comment on the ruling.

The issue began on Sept. 28, 2011, when ICE's public affairs office issued a news release describing the operation and listing cities in New England where ICE arrested individuals.

The New Hampshire Union Leader contacted a public affairs officer to request the names and addresses of the six people arrested in New Hampshire. The officer provided the newspaper information about the arrestees, including their sexes, ages, countries of birth, the state in which where they were arrested, criminal conviction information as well as their ICE custody status, according to the decision.

Those arrested were born in Mexico, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic or Colombia, ranged in age from 23 to 63 and had been convicted for either selling or possessing cocaine, driving while intoxicated and commiting an assault, commiting and assault and shoplifting, or entering the United States illegally.

The newspaper in February 2012 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to the six people ICE arrested in New Hampshire. ICE identified 19 pages of documents, but redacted portions of them, including the names, addresses, places of employment and other information.

The Union Leader filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Concord in April 2012.

Last November, the New York Times filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after denying full access to a document listing aliens who were convicted of criminal charges and were to be deported to their home countries following sentencing but instead were set free.

ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, cited an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, according to the suit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York. Maria Sacchetti, a reporter for The Boston Globe, which the Times owns, also is named a plaintiff.

The case remains pending.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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