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Filing a FOIA Request


FOIA


FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1966 and implemented in the following year, allows any person, regardless of immigration status, to request their immigration records from any components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The U.S. Department of Justice states that “FOIA … keeps citizens in the know about their government”. Likewise, a landmark case in our nation’s Supreme Court determined that: “[FOIA’s] basic purpose is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to a democratic society, to check corruption and hold governors accountable to the governed.”


FOIA can be particularly useful if you have previously been involved in immigration cases or are currently implicated in one.

 

What Is The Purpose Of A FOIA In My Immigration Case?


The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows individuals to request copies of records or files from immigration agencies or other government entities. This is particularly crucial for those involved in various stages of immigration processes, whether they are initiating proceedings, applying for visas, being sponsored by family members, defending themselves in immigration court, or seeking asylum. Understanding past interactions with immigration authorities—whether at the border, within the country, in detention centers, or through other official channels— can be crucial for understanding and potentially resolving your case.

It's important to access detailed information such as the evaluations made by Border Patrol officers, reasons for visa cancellations, notes from agents, decisions made by immigration judges, and details surrounding past citizenship applications, including interview no-shows and the rationale behind negative decisions. Knowing these details helps clarify the current status and history of one's immigration case.

 

Here are two common reasons why some FOIA requests are denied: 

  1. An agency may predict that the requested information falls under one of the exemptions outlined by FOIA, which include categories related to national security, personal privacy, law enforcement, and other sensitive matters.

  2. It may be illegal to disclose the requested information due to specific laws or regulations that prohibit its public release. Additionally, the Privacy Act (PA) of 1974 establishes guidelines that govern fair information practices. This act requires federal agencies to follow strict rules regarding how they collect, manage, and disclose information. The PA plays a crucial role in ensuring that information handling by federal agencies is transparent yet also respects the privacy and security of individuals.

 

Steps to File a FOIA Request

Form G-639 (Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request) requests access to USCIS records under the FOIA. Individuals requesting mail should complete, download, print, and sign Form G-639. This will ensure that the USCIS receives accurate information to fulfill their request.

A FOIA request can also be made in writing without the Form G-639. However, individuals are likelier to omit essential information, which may delay the entire request process.

 

1.     Search Available Records

Before submitting a FOIA request you should first search the available FOIA records, Component FOIA Libraries, Privacy FOIA Library and Major Information Systems.


2.     Learn how to make a request

Requests must be in writing and the records you are seeking must be reasonably described.  It is helpful to include specific information that may assist in identifying the requested records, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, subject matter of the record.

It is critical that all the required information be provided when submitting a FOIA request. Failure to do so will result in delay or rejection of requests. Please make sure your request includes:

  • Name

  • Contact information (street address or email address)

  • Brief description of records sought

  • If you are seeking records that contain personal information about yourself, provide a perjury statement and signature or notary 

  • If you are seeking records that include personal information of a third party, you may receive greater access by providing a third party release statement.

 

3.     Submit a request

Requests are made either directly to the DHS Privacy Office or directly to a DHS Component. You may submit your request online or by mail, email, or fax to the Privacy Office or appropriate Component.

 

 

 

A FOIA request can be a powerful tool in helping your U.S. immigration case. If you have any questions, contact a licensed, experienced immigration attorney who can advise you on the FOIA process.

 

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846. The law firm was established in 2012. Ms. Elizee earned her Juris Doctorate at the University of Miami School of Law and her Masters in Law from the University of Washington School of Law.

 

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