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May 03. 2013 12:42AM

Secret arrests: ICE's dangerous power

It ought to go without saying that the public has a general right to know the identities of people arrested by the federal governmemt, except in cases when the government can prove in court that there is a pressing national security justification for keeping the names secret. Instead, the government can make secret arrests as a matter of general policy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did exactly that in New Hampshire in 2011. The agency, a part of the Department of Homeland Security, arrested six people it said were convicted criminal aliens. It issued a press release boasting of the arrests. But it refused to release the names.

This newspaper sued to get the names, and on April 18 a federal judge ruled that the government did not have to release them. That is disappointing and disconcerting.

"I believe secret arrests to be dangerously un-American," our attorney, Gregory 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."

Dangerously un-American is right. When the government can use arrests as political propaganda and withhold the names of those arrested, preventing the people from scrutinizing the propaganda, an important check on the power of the state has been erased.


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