Can FOIA Help Your Immigration Case?

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How Can the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Help Your Immigration Case?

If you’ve ever had to deal with a denied immigration application, then it is very likely that you had a lot of questions about what went wrong. Sometimes, immigration authorities like the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may include the reason for the denial when they send you your rejection notice. But denial notices do not tell the whole story, and the information there is often insufficient.

You might choose to reapply for the visa or immigration process afresh, but how do you know that you won’t make the same mistakes that led to the denial in the first place? In such instances, you may need to get your complete immigration records from the authorities so that you can review the relevant details and determine the best way forward.

The Freedom of Information Act is a federal law in the U.S. that mandates federal government agencies to disclose records of their processes upon request by any person. The agency in question cannot deny a request made under the Act unless the information requested is a trade secret or other confidential information specifically protected. 

When you request your immigration records under this Act, you are guaranteed to get a response within days. You can also initiate legal proceedings against the agency in question if they refuse to provide the information you need.

Read on as we explain how the FOIA information request process works and how it helps immigration cases succeed.

Does the FOIA Apply to All Immigration Authorities?

The FOIA applies to all federal government agencies and departments. Since immigration in the U.S. is a federal affair, the Act applies to all immigration authorities, including the following:

  • The USCIS

  • The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

  • The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

  • The Department of State (DOS)

  • Immigration courts (since they are under the Department of Justice).

You can request access to your immigration records from any of these agencies, depending on which one processed your case.

However, the Act does not apply to records held by state or local governments. If you’d like to retrieve records from such entities, you may need to approach them directly.

Types of Information You Can Recover Under the FOIA

The FOIA can help you recover information and documents related to the following:

  • Your immigration history, including previous applications for visas, green cards, or any immigration benefits

  • Lost or destroyed immigration records

  • The reason behind denied immigration applications

  • Reports on immigration background checks

Even though the authorities are meant to fully disclose the information you request, you may not get to see every word written in your file. This is because the immigration authorities can lawfully censor or erase words that could lead to the disclosure of information not specifically related to your case, such as the names of immigration officials.

Also, some types of information pertaining to your case can be obtained easily without resorting to FOIA requests. In such cases, it would be better to follow the easier procedure instead of the FOIA process. For instance, if you need updates about your case with the USCIS, the USCIS has an online case status tracker where you can easily retrieve that information. You do not need to go through the FOIA process for that, even though you can. Consider saving the FOIA process for instances where the information you seek is difficult to get.

How To Request Records From Immigration Agencies Under the FOIA

The steps for submitting a FOIA records request depends on the immigration agency that has custody of the information. So, you must first identify the type of information you need and the agency in charge before you proceed. For example, if you need details about removal proceedings in an immigration court, your records would likely be in the custody of the Department of Justice since it oversees the immigration courts.

Once you’ve identified the information you need, you must determine where to submit your request. The U.S. Department of Justice operates a general FOIA website where individuals can make their requests to most federal agencies.

However, agencies like the USCIS have their own FOIA online request portal on their website. You’ll need to follow the agency-specific procedure for such agencies to get the necessary information. Feel free to contact an immigration lawyer for help if you have questions about the request filing process.

How Soon Will Your Request Be Processed?

The FOIA requires federal government agencies to process requests for information within 20 business days of receiving them. You should receive the information you need within that time. To get your request processed more quickly, try doing the following:

  • Ensure you send your request to the appropriate agency.

  • Specify the type of information you need in your request. Requesting specific details or documents makes your application easier to process. Blanket information requests requiring the authorities to look through or produce lengthy files may take longer to process.

If your case requires immediate attention, you can request expedited action (quicker processing) from the agency involved. But you may need to provide evidence to show the situation’s urgency.

For example, if you’re requesting your records because you need them to defend yourself during removal proceedings and avoid deportation, you can request the USCIS to expedite action on your request. But you must include documents such as the Notice to Appear (issued when the proceedings were initiated) to support your request.

How an Immigration Attorney Can Help

Although you can request your immigration records yourself, the process could get complicated because of all the factors you need to consider, including identifying the specific information you need and the agency that has custody of the information. Getting an immigration lawyer to review your case can help you quickly deal with those preliminary issues.

Immigration lawyers can also make information requests on your behalf, so you don’t have to worry about navigating the application process for various immigration agencies. All you need to do is authorize your attorney to request the information on your behalf, and you can rest easy while they do the work for you.

Contact Experienced Immigration Lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas Attorneys at Law for Help With Your FOIA Immigration Requests

The FOIA can help you obtain the information you need to succeed with your immigration case. But the information request process could be complex and difficult to navigate, which is why you should consider hiring a skilled immigration lawyer to help.

At our law firm, we understand that the outcome of your immigration application often depends on the quality of information you provide. We can help you navigate the FOIA process and do all we can to ensure you have the records you need to support your immigration application/appeal; or convince the immigration judge at the Dallas Immigration Court or any other immigration court to decide in your favor if you’re in removal proceedings.

So, if you have questions about making a request or want to begin the process, contact us immediately. Let us help you find the details you need to move forward with your immigration.