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Freedom of Information Act Requests

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966.  The United States is among about 85 countries with Freedom of Information Acts.  FOIA allows, subject to some exceptions, any person to obtain from any government agency a copy of all of the documents and information it possesses relating to that person.

FOIA is an important right in democratic societies.  The ability of governments to maintain secret records about members of the public that are inaccessible by the public fosters anti-democratic government activities and plants the seeds of authoritarianism.

In immigration cases FOIA helps attorneys make sure that their clients do not have past immigration contacts, orders of deportation, or other immigration-related events that may affect the client's current application for relief.  A lawyer may ask the client about past contacts with immigration authorities, but clients who are forgetful, uncooperative, or lack a basic understanding of their surroundings may be unable to reliably report past immigration events.

On March 1, 2003, INS was split into two agencies: US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers immigration benefits, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which takes care of the penalties.  USCIS and ICE both use a central database called the Central Index System (CIS) which was initially developed by INS.  CIS contains records on more than 57 million people including those who apply for immigration benefits, aliens apprehended at the border, persons in deportation or removal proceedings and other people who have had immigration contacts with USCIS, ICE or Customs and Border Protection.

For more information on the Central Index System click here.

For this reason, theoretically it should not matter if a member of the public sends a FOIA request to USCIS, or ICE seeking immigration records.  Both agencies should have information about the same immigration contacts because they share the same CIS database.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement allows FOIA submissions online: click here to visit ICE FOIA

US Citizenship and Immigration Services allows FOIA submissions by mail and e-mail: click here to visit USCIS FOIA

If the government does not timely respond to your FOIA request, or if the government refuses to give you certain documents or information because they fall under an exception, you may have the right to bring your FOIA claim in federal court.  If you would like more information about your right to FOIA records, please contact us.