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Borden v. Department of Homeland Security

In March 2015, DHS announced in a press release that five separate investigations led by DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division had resulted in the return to Iraq of ancient antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects. The DHS press release noted that one of the most significant items returned to Iraq was the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II, which DHS had recovered in the course of an effort it denominated “Operation Lost Treasure.” The press release also noted that a DHS investigation dubbed “The Mummy’s Curse” resulted in the return of 37 Iraqi bronze objects, 21 clay reliefs, and 18 pieces of Iraqi glass to Iraq. And in May 2018, DHS, through ICE, announced that it had returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. ICE stated that the artifacts had been smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

In February 2020, researcher and investigative journalist Jeremy Borden submitted eight Freedom of information Act requests to DHS related to these and other DHS press releases concerning the return of artifacts to Iraq. After a full year, the agency had yet to send a substantive response to seven of those requests. Representing Mr. Borden, Public Citizen filed a FOIA lawsuit against DHS, challenging its failure to respond to the requests. DHS then responded to the requests, resolving the litigation.