A new lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California now allows Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applicants to challenge long standing delays in receiving their immigration records from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The U.S. District Court has certified two class action lawsuits allowing FOIA applicants and attorneys requesting FOIA records on their behalf to join in the class action so that class members may receive timely determinations on their FOIA requests. This decision was made in response to significant delays that applicants face in obtaining their immigration records from the agency.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick who granted the class action request wrote in his order that delays in receiving immigration records are particularly precarious for, “Noncitizens in removal proceedings” who “particularly rely on FOIA requests because discovery is not available. Consequently, obtaining A-Files from defendants is critical in immigration cases; delays in obtaining A-Files leave noncitizen and their attorneys “in legal limbo” that inflicts substantial hardship.”
The judge also noted that delays in producing immigration records have led to serious disadvantages including longer detention for clients in removal proceedings, risk of deportation for clients who are left without proof of status as they wait to file applications for relief until they obtain A-files, prolonged family separation, inability to travel for emergency reasons, loss of access to public assistance for those who are eligible, and increased attorney costs.
According to the court order, USCIS must make determinations on backlogged A-File FOIA requests within 60 days.
Who can benefit from this order?
USCIS Class: All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS which have been pending, or will be pending, with USCIS for more than 30 business days without a determination.
ICE Referral Class: All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS that USCIS has referred, or will refer, to ICE and which have been pending, or will be pending, for more than 30 business days from the date of the initial filing with USCIS without a determination.
If you fall into one of the above categories consult with your immigration attorney to seek a prompt resolution of your pending FOIA application.