Chicago Investigates ICE Use of Data Brokers to Skirt Sanctuary Laws


In a public hearing on Wednesday, the first of its kind nationwide, Chicago’s Cook County heard expert testimony on how ICE’s contract with data broker LexisNexis may skirt the county’s sanctuary ordinance


Chicago, IL — The Cook County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing today investigating how data brokers like LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters are contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to skirt sanctuary protections and possibly violate the rights of Cook County residents.


Mijente, Commissioner Alma E. Anaya, Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD), and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) also held a press conference ahead of the public hearing calling on the county to review its data broker contracts and strengthen its sanctuary ordinance to take into account these data loopholes used by ICE.


(You can view video of that press conference here. The public hearing was recorded and should be available on the county’s website here in the coming days.)


The hearing was before the Cook County Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which heard expert testimony from Mijente and Just Futures Law detailing surveillance contracts held between LexisNexis, Cook County, and ICE and how those contracts create a backdoor to sanctuary protections in the county. They also heard testimony from some half-dozen county agencies, such as the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office, about those agencies’ data sharing policies.


LexisNexis has a contract worth up to $22.1 million with ICE selling access to a massive database of personal information, including names, addresses, court records, drivers license information, real-time jail booking data, phone data, and much more. A separate contract, between Cook County and LexisNexis, gives the company access to real-time jail booking information. Incarceration and release data is shared with LexisNexis by Cook County as often as every 15 minutes.


Because ICE buys data directly from LexisNexis, its agents can see the incarceration status and release dates of individuals in jails and prisons—even in jurisdictions where laws are meant to prohibit data sharing between local jails or police departments and ICE, like Cook County.


In its contracting document for LexisNexis, ICE explicitly states that its contract with the data broker is “critical” because of new sanctuary policies across the country that limit data sharing with the agency, adding that not having access to LexisNexis would present a “major operational impact” for ICE.


“This is a massive loophole in hard-fought sanctuary laws nationwide,” said Cinthya Rodriguez, a national organizer with Mijente’s #NoTechforICE campaign based in Chicago. “We’ve seen time and again how government agencies, stymied by legislation or the constitution itself, attempt to obtain data through third parties like LexisNexis. We know ICE is doing it, we’ve shown this in our research. Now, we need answers about how it’s happening in Chicago.”


“For more than a decade, communities across the country have organized and worked with local officials to pass laws to stop local collaboration with ICE,” said Julie Mao, deputy director with Just Futures Law. “But today, ICE is undermining sanctuary protections by going to data brokers to access data on Cook County residents. We urge local elected officials to act now to protect the personal information of residents against data brokers working hand in hand with ICE.”


Commissioners also heard public and expert testimony from OCAD and ICIRR on how this data sharing is directly impacting immigration enforcement on the ground.


"Cook County has a rich history being a national leader in protecting immigrant communities and we have a responsibility to continue to uphold those values,” said Commissioner Alma Anaya. “Data brokers are making millions by selling private information ultimately aiding mass surveillance, raids, and deportations, all while violating the privacy rights of every person. What Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is doing, once again, puts our families in jeopardy. This is a loophole  to the hard-fought protections our local and state entities have secured over the years. We are calling for a ban to the sale of our communities. We demand that LexisNexis, Appriss, Equifax, Motorola, and other data brokers do the same.”


“ICE is going around policies meant to protect immigrants by accessing our personal information through data brokers is yet another example of how immigrants continue to be targeted and dehumanized,” said Karina Suarez Solano, Deportation Defense Coordinator with OCAD. “This violation of privacy and well-being is unacceptable to anyone who values and practices consent. Our communities deserve safety, and true safety doesn’t come in the form of surveillance and criminalization.”


“ICIRR and our allies worked hard to advocate for and defend our county policies restricting cooperation and information sharing with ICE,” said Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel with ICIRR. “But the county cannot fulfill the purpose of these policies, and county residents cannot truly feel safe, unless we ensure that county information is secure and will not land in the hands of third parties that will sell access to those that seek to harm our families and communities.  We applaud Commissioner Anaya and her cosponsors for bringing this data sharing issue to light, and urge our county agencies to review and restrict not only its data sharing policies but also what information they collect: What they do not have, they cannot sell or share.”


ICE’s contract with LexisNexis, one of the largest data brokers in the world, has enabled the agency to carry out mass surveillance nationwide: ICE agents conducted more than 1.2 million queries with LexisNexis over a seven-month period, according to FOIA documents obtained by Mijente and Just Futures Law, likely surveilling millions of people across the country.


That includes hundreds of thousands of searches by agents with Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which leads on deportation operations. The Chicago Field Office of ERO ran over 14,000 searches in LexisNexis during that period, generating more than 1,800 reports on individuals. Chicago conducted the second highest number of searches of any field office nationwide, only behind San Diego.


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Mijente is a national Latinx and Chicanx advocacy organization that leads the #NoTechforICE campaign, which has exposed the deep ties between Silicon Valley and immigration enforcement in an effort to end the contracts between tech companies and ICE or CBP.


Just Futures Law is a transformative legal organization that defends and builds the power of immigrants’ rights and criminal justice organizers and base-building community groups working to disrupt and dismantle our deportation and mass incarceration systems.


Cook County Commissioner Alma E. Anaya (D-7th) represents and serves the Southwest Side of Chicago. She became the only Latina, the youngest woman to ever serve, and one of the few formerly undocumented immigrants to hold office in the country when she took office. Commissioner Anaya has achieved major legislative accomplishments and has become a fierce advocate for immigrants, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, people with disabilities, and for working-class families in Cook County.


OCAD is an intergenerational collective of individuals based in Chicago who come together to fight against deportations and criminalization.


The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a statewide coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.