Monday, December 21, 2020

Access to Immigration Files


USCIS and ICE Must Give People Access to Their Immigration Files After Losing Lawsuit

People who need access to their government immigration records scored a huge victory in the Nightingale et al. v. USCIS case on December 17.

A judge ruled that a nationwide class of individuals should have access to their immigration files—called A-Files—within the timeframes outlined in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statute.

A-Files contain records of interactions with the Department of Homeland Security, prior entries in the United States, removal orders, statements made to immigration officials, and past applications for immigration benefits. This information allows immigrants to defend against removal, apply for immigration benefits, and naturalize. Individuals must submit a FOIA request to receive their files.

The judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must:

Adhere to the FOIA statutory deadlines, which mandates the agencies must respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days, with certain exceptions.

Make determinations on all A-File FOIA requests in USCIS and ICE backlogs within 60 days.

Provide the court and class counsel with quarterly compliance reports, with the first report due in 90 days.

The judge noted, “There is no adequate substitute for the information contained in an A-File and FOIA is the primary, if not the only, mechanism for accessing A-Files.”

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