The ACLU’s Radical Anti-ICE Campaign

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken its campaign of endless harassment against the Department of Homeland Security to a whole new level of insanity. What’s the ACLU throwing a hissy-fit about this time?

According to Tech Crunch, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and received documents indicating that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) purchased access to a commercial database that allows policing agencies to flag license plates and receive an alert when those plates are caught on traffic cameras.

It is not clear why this revelation required a FOIA action, since federal agencies are required by law to publish a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) any time they begin using a new data source. And the Tech Crunch piece specifically notes that ICE did, in fact, publish several PIA’s during its negotiations with the database service provider.

Nevertheless, according to the ACLU, ICE’s “exploitation” of license plate information raises “privacy concerns” and “violates immigration sanctuary laws.” The ACLU also makes the absurd assertion that ICE is attempting to circumvent proper “oversight” when it calls police departments and asks them for “locally collected driver location data.” (Funny, we thought that was called investigation – and it’s exactly what federal law enforcement agents are paid to do.)

But there are two key problems with the ACLU’s legal analysis:

  • As the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has noted in U.S. v. Ellison, every court that has addressed the issue has found that motorists have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their license plate numbers. And computer checks of vehicle registration information do not violate the Fourth Amendment, or any other prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Translated into plain English, that means the following:

  • There is absolutely no prohibition on federal law enforcement agencies, including ICE, using license plate information to find law-breakers. And it does not matter whether that license plate information is gathered through personal observation, by calls to local police departments, or via roadway surveillance cameras.
  • Local law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with ICE may well be subject to prosecution on federal charges of obstructing justice.

Of course, the ACLU isn’t remotely interested in what the law actually says. Rather, the organization is interested in promoting its bogus narrative that ICE is “an immoral and rogue agency.”

It does not appear that the ACLU has filed any lawsuits in connection with ICE’s use of license plate data. However, when it inevitably does, its preposterous legal arguments are tailor made to prove alluring to the activist judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – which has an established history of creating “immigrants’ rights” out of jurisprudential smoke and fog.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar
    Aaron Arnold on

    “…according to the ACLU, ICE’s “exploitation” of license plate information raises “privacy concerns” and “violates immigration sanctuary laws.” The ACLU also makes the absurd assertion that ICE is attempting to circumvent proper “oversight” when it calls police departments and asks them for “locally collected driver location data.”

    “Violates immigration sanctuary laws?” – You’re kidding, right?

  2. avatar

    Any legally licensed driver should be happy to see this because it will help get the UNINSURED, frequently illegal, drivers off the road. A lot of people, depending on the state, spend two or three hundred dollars a year in case they get hit by someone with no insurance. Cameras are a good thing in public areas. No one really cares if you are going into Wal Mart, no one is sitting there looking at those hours of film. If a camera picks up a stolen or non-registered car, what is the possible harm, other than to the ability of illegal aliens to stay here, which is what the left wants.

    The advantage also is that if a crime occurs than it’s easy to pick out the suspect and not have the police have to interview endless people to find them. The ACLU once was a legitimate organization defending the legal rights of AMERICAN citizens. It is now just another left wing advocacy group, awash in fund-raising cash like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  3. avatar

    Um….there’s a REASON motor vehicles have had to display registration “tags” -aka “license plate numbers – for about a hundred years already! It’s called “vehicle identification,” as in: “Did you get the license number of that truck?” For lawyers, these Alien Criminal Liberties Union jokers sure are dumb!