file a foia request

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows individuals to request access to federal agency records. FOIA requests can be made for a range of records, including immigration files from agencies like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Here is an overview of how to file a FOIA request for immigration records.

Submitting the Request

The first step is to identify the agency or agencies that are likely to have the records you need. For immigration records, key agencies include:

– USCIS – for records related to immigration applications, petitions, and case processing

– ICE – for records related to immigration enforcement and removal proceedings

– U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – for records related to inspections and border activity

– U.S. Department of State – for records related to visa applications and issuance

Once you have identified the agency, you will need to check its website for information on how to submit a FOIA request. Most agencies have an online FOIA portal where you can submit requests electronically. You can also submit requests by mail.

The FOIA request should clearly identify the records you are seeking. Provide as much detail as possible – full name, date of birth, A-number, receipt or case number, etc. Specify the time range for the records. Mention your willingness to pay any fees.

Processing Timelines

By law, agencies normally must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days. They can extend this by 10 business days when necessary. However, actual processing times vary widely by agency.

For immigration-related requests, current average processing times are:

– USCIS – 3 to 6 months

– ICE – 3 to 5 months

– CBP – 1 month or more

– State Department – 18+ months

Expect it to take at least several months before you receive a substantive response to an immigration FOIA. Keep in mind that requests are handled in the order they are received.

Records and Redactions

The records you receive are likely to contain some redactions of information protected under FOIA exemptions. Common redacted items include:

– Social security numbers
– Birth dates
– Home addresses / phone numbers
– Names / information on third parties

You will typically receive photocopies of original records. In some cases you may be able to request digital records. Review the records you receive to ensure relevant pages were not omitted.

Appealing a Denial

If your request is denied, you have the right to submit an administrative appeal. The denial letter will provide instructions on how to appeal to the agency’s appellate authority. Be aware strict time limits apply – often 30 days or less from the date of the denial letter.

On appeal, clearly state the reasons you think the denial was improper under FOIA. Provide copy of original request and denial letter. Any new arguments or details about the records should be included.

Options if Appeal Fails

If the administrative appeal upholds the denial, two options remain. First, you can submit a new request that tries to address any issues with the original. Second, you can file a lawsuit in federal district court, which will do an independent review of the request. Note, however, this option involves complicated legal procedures.

FOIA requests provide a way to access immigration records directly from government agencies. Understanding the detailed process and timelines involved allows you to successfully obtain needed records. With patience and attention to procedures, FOIA can produce valuable information.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here