On November 3, 2020, the Brennan Center submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for program handbooks, training materials, and memoranda that govern the conduct of special agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Read the FOIA request here.
HSI is the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government and the principal investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). HSI employs over 7,100 special agents across 225 cities and has a large international presence. Its special agents, who have a broad mandate to investigate “any federal crime,” have been implicated in monitoring protests as well as dragging protesters in Portland into unmarked vans in 2020. In 2022, Senator Wyden revealed that HSI had conducted “indiscriminate and bulk surveillance” that swept up records about some six million money transfers between Mexico and four southwestern states with large Latino communities over two years. In January 2023, after identifying additional bulk surveillance, Senator Wyden’s office called on the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate HSI.
Despite its broad enforcement and investigative capabilities, HSI is not subject to the Attorney General’s Guidelines, which govern the activities of FBI agents, and the extent to which HSI’s powers are meaningfully constrained by internal guidelines and policies remains unclear. For this reason, the Brennan Center sought five key handbooks: the Narcotics and Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Handbook, the National Security Investigations Handbook, the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Investigations Handbook, the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Investigations Handbook, and the Investigative Methods Handbook.
After ICE failed to issue a determination or produce responsive documents, the Brennan Center filed suit on March 19, 2021, with pro bono assistance from Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. During a court conference held on April 12, 2021, the Court ordered ICE to release responsive records by mid-July. In May, ICE released some responsive records, many with redactions; on November 29, 2021, after additional litigation, the Court ruled in large part in the Brennan Center’s favor, ordering ICE to conduct a broader search for documents and lift some of its redactions. From December 2021 through March 2023, ICE produced further documents and lifted some of the redactions on its earlier productions. Ultimately, the Brennan Center received four of the handbooks it requested, many with substantial redactions, along with an updated version of one of the handbooks, as well as materials related to HSI special agents’ investigative methods and several relevant memoranda.
- Read the Brennan Center’s complaint here.
- Read the April 12, 2021, conference transcript here.
- Read ICE’s motion for summary judgement here.
- Read the Brennan Center’s cross-motion for summary judgement here.
- Read the November 2021 order here.
These HSI Handbooks are developed by the HSI Policy Unit for particular areas of focus, setting forth critical final policies and guidance that act as guardrails on HSI activities. Below is information on each of the HSI handbooks the Brennan Center obtained, along with memoranda and guidance documents. ICE did not produce the Investigative Methods Handbook, because the agency cancelled that handbook and decided against replacing it. Instead, ICE produced several presentations and instruction documents used to train HSI special agents.