Freedom of Information Act requests: Why are they important when you work with an immigration lawyer?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows anyone to request records and information from the U.S. government. See 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2016). While the FOIA’s primary purpose is to keep citizens informed and government transactions transparent, the legislation also proves useful in some immigration cases.

If you have any immigration history, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of State (DOS), the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and even the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) may already have records related to your immigration history. A FOIA request can often resolve long-pending immigration cases by revealing incorrect or missing information federal agencies may have about you.

Requesting Information Under the Freedom of Information Act

While you can request a great deal of information under the FOIA, there are nine specific exceptions identified by statute. See 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2016). These exceptions cover documents that impact national security and those that would be a personal invasion of privacy, among others. So, while you may request immigration records concerning yourself, you probably can’t obtain the records of a friend or family member.

A FOIA request is typically faster and more efficient if you identify specific records that you want. For example, if you want to request your USCIS “A file,” you may want to request all documents and information in the file, or you may want to request a specific document. Limiting your FOIA request to a specific document or group of documents can expedite your request and keep costs down.

How to Make a FOIA Request

You can make USCIS FOIA requests online. You can request ICE records online or via mail or fax. Request CPB records online or via mail. You should request EOIR records through the U.S. Department of Justice. You may request DOS records via email or online. FBI records are available by request online or via mail or fax. You cannot make a FOIA request by phone. You must make FOIA requests to any government agency in writing.

Navigating the FOIA to obtain immigration records can be challenging because of the number of agencies involved. You should speak with an experienced immigration attorney before you begin. I’ve helped thousands of couples navigate the immigration process and the Freedom of Information Act. I’d love to help you too.