The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted in 1966, provides that any person within the United States has the right to obtain access to federal records, except when they are protected from public disclosure by certain exemptions related to public policy or national security.
A FOIA provides any person with the right to access any federal records.
Any person, citizen or not, may apply for it. FOIA is a valuable tool for immigration cases because it allows the attorney to know the applicant’s entire immigration history.
FOIA is an excellent information tool for immigration attorneys and the requester.
What Is The Purpose Of The FOIA File?
FOIA was passed by Congress saying that people have the right to access their records with federal agencies, so what we use is that law, that right for our clients who want to review the information and content in their files with various immigration agencies.
It can be the immigration service ICE, Border Patrol, or the Immigration Court, and each agency has its own policy and its own way of pulling the file.
This document doesn’t include everything, sometimes they mark in black important information and we have to appeal, but that is the way to access the information that immigration has about a person inside the United States.
FOIA is very helpful depending on your circumstances if you have had a case with immigration before or have been included in an immigration case before, and you have contact with the police, with Border Patrol, immigration officials, and the like.
Not everyone needs to get a FOIA and not everyone who is getting a FOIA needs to get a FOIA or a score from all agencies.
In fact, the decision about who needs FOIAs and what agencies, if any, are needed is an important point in the process of a successful immigration case. an important part of the process of a well-done immigration case.
That is a decision that we make when we are opening a new case, sometimes we may say that we need to do a FOIA and we are going to start with another process at the same time, or sometimes we say that before we start a process we need more information and so we start with just the FOIA.
Each case, as always, is different, and yours will be different from that of your twin, your friend, your neighbor, or anyone else.
You should consult directly with us to find out if you need to obtain a FOIA or a new FOIA before starting the immigration process.
What Is The Purpose Of A FOIA In My Immigration Case?
A FOIA is a copy of a record or a file with an immigration agency or other agencies.
Depending on whether someone wants to start immigration proceedings, wants to apply for a U Visa, wants to be petitioned by their family member, wants to defend themselves in immigration court, wants to apply for asylum or any other type of case, whether they have had contact with immigration before at the border, in the interior of the country, in a detention center, in immigration court or by mail, it is worthwhile to know exactly what happened to your case.
It is necessary to know what grades the Border Patrol officer or agent gave, when they canceled the Visa, why, which and what reason they put in those notes, what the judge decided in their immigration court, what happened with their citizenship case before, they never showed up in any interview, but what they put in the case, what was the reason for that negative decision.
That is why sometimes it is very important to know exactly what is in the record before, to decide what we can do in the future.
Who Can Request A FOIA?
Everyone has the right to access their own immigration case themselves.
As always in the immigration world, you have the right to consult and use the services of an immigration attorney, it is not a requirement, but in our experience, people think that getting a FOIA is something simple, that it is not something very difficult, but in fact, this part of the process can be very complicated.
There are many agencies and each has its own process for requesting a copy of the file, and if there is an error, this can delay the case for months or years.
So, it is worthwhile to ask only for the necessary information from the agency that has it and to ask for the exact information you need.
Then you have to do the work of reviewing the results and making a decision.
We have a lot of people come to our office with a copy of their FOIA that they took out with another attorney or took out themselves.
That does work for us, we can review an already printed FOIA, but we are going to want to know your immigration history, every entry, every exit, every contact with immigration, and every package you have sent to immigration.
For example, if someone took a Border Patrol FOIA 5 years ago, but last year got out, came back, and was passed to secondary inspection, we’re going to want to review the notes of what happened last year.
We will not be able to use the FOIA from before because of this type of situation, and it also depends on the time that has elapsed and the information in your file.
In some instances, older FOIAs will work, but it is not common for it to be the only record required for a current immigration case.
What Do The Results I Receive From Agencies Look Like?
It is a package that arrives by mail, but sometimes they send it alternatively by email with the copy of the file, it can be approximately 5 pages if it’s a Border Patrol note resulting in an entry.
Often we can investigate whether someone was deported under an expedited departure or whether they received a voluntary departure, because that may change their eligibility for other things in the future.
If we are pulling a FOIA from the immigration service, they are going to respond with all the requests, the forms, and the immigration receipts, and if they requested more evidence, the responses and the decisions in the case will be attached.
We have reviewed immigration service and immigration court FOIAs that are over 500 pages long, so it depends on the agency and the record that we are reviewing, it can be a very small package or it can be very large.
How Long Can My FOIA Take To Get Out?
It depends on the agency for which you are requesting your FOIA record, for example in the case of Border Patrol, it is estimated that it is between 4 and 6 months to wait, and those are the records of when there was contact at the border after being seized.
Immigration service applications are made when we are requesting information from previous applications with immigration, this usually takes between 3 to 4 months, which is very fast.
The bad news is in immigration court because they don’t work, it can be years of waiting to get an answer on this.
It is faster if someone is detained, but our advice will always be that if you are here in the United States without legal status, or have an order of deportation for failure to appear in immigration court, it is worth calling us at this time and starting the process of requesting your file.
It is very stressful for families of detained people, or for someone who has received a notice from immigration asking for information, to have to respond.
Some people want to apply for citizenship but we cannot start their case because we have to wait for the FOIA first.
Another important aspect is that immigration responses for judges are taking longer than before.
If My FOIA Does Not Reveal Anything Negative Is It Good For My Case?
A clarification because many people do not know, is that the USCIS immigration service will never detain a person, those who are in charge of this are the Border Patrol or ICE officers, they are the ones making the arrests or going to catch people at the border..
If someone for example you were detained at the border and nothing comes out, it is possible that it was a voluntary departure, and that is going to tell us that the person was not deported under official deportation, so that could be good news.
If the person was detained or arrested inside the U.S. for immigration and nothing comes up with ICE, we will probably want to investigate a little more and check with, for example, the FBI or another agency, to find out why.
This depends on the consequences for the individual. For example, if someone received deportation in absentia, but is now thinking about adjustment of status based on a marriage to a citizen, we are going to want to investigate very thoroughly to find out where they qualify for adjustment of status, because the consequences could be horrible for that person.
If they find out at the final interview that the person is carrying deportation, he or she may be detained and deported at that time.
Sometimes this information does not appear and we decide to stop because we already have the information we need, but sometimes we will want to check with another agency.
For example, the FBI is a very fast information-giving agency; it can usually take weeks to get a response from them.
When My FOIA Has ”Reserved” Pages, What Does It Mean?
When a person has ”reserved” pages in their FOIA file, we will want to review the outcome of their case.
We are not looking for the decision and or the word they use for that decision, what we want to see is the whole package to see if there is different information about their immigration history, their work history, and their address history.
What’s the reason for his first case, why was he asking for an adjustment of status, was it for another marriage, and has he included the second or first marriage in his second case.
That is why we say that it is very important for us if we are starting a permanent residency case, that a person who already applied for residency was denied.
We will want to see the entire file from before so that we don’t have any errors or problems with the second case.
If you have further questions about FOIA or your specific case, you may contact us at (855) 502-0555. After a brief 10-minute evaluation of your case over the phone, we will let you know what options you have. You can also follow us on our social networks so you don’t miss our weekly broadcasts on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch.