Examining the Freedom of Information Act and the FOIA Request – Part 2 of 3
In our previous blog, we detailed a general overview of the Freedom of Information Act. In today’s part two of the series, we will be discussing how to make a FOIA request with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To recap, the Freedom of Information Act provides that any person has a right to obtain access to federal agency records, so long as the records do not fall under one of nine exemptions (e.g. information that protects national security).
USCIS is the government agency within the Department of Homeland Security that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. USCIS documents all contact that a foreign national has with the federal government. These files are known as “Alien Files,” abbreviated to, “A-files.” On average USCIS receives 600 FOIA requests for A-files every day. These files are typically around 200 pages long.
In order to promote efficiency, USCIS has centralized all of its FOIA operations into one office, located in Missouri. Because the requested files are often so lengthy, USCIS has broken their system up into a multi-track processing system as follows:
• Track 1 – Track 1 is used for simple cases in which the requestor only needs a few specific documents from a file. For example, a requestor looking for a copy of their Green Card.
• Track 2 – Track 2 is used for more complex cases, typically when a requestor would like a copy of their entire file.
• Track 3 – Track 3 is an accelerated track for cases involving individuals who have been ordered to appear before an immigration judge.
A FOIA request to USCIS must be put into writing. While it is not required, USCIS recommends using Form G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request. This is a brief, two-page form listing the requestor’s general information and describing the type of record requested. Form G-639 must be filed under either a Notarized Affidavit of Identity or a Sworn Declaration Under Penalty of Perjury.
Once Form G-639 has been completed, it can be mailed or faxed to the National Records Center.
USCIS is then required under FOIA to respond to the FOIA request within 20 business days of receiving. If the request will require more time, USCIS will issue an acknowledgement letter informing the requestor of the delay. Under FOIA, USCIS is permitted to extend the response time when USCIS needs to collect records from other field offices, when the request involves a voluminous amount of records to be compiled, or when USCIS needs to consult another agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security.
There is no initial fee required to submit a FOIA request. However, if USCIS spends more than two hours of search time, a fee may be required. This fee typically does not exceed $25.
If you would like assistance in filing a FOIA request, please schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!