Learning About the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

One of the most puzzling characteristics of the U.S. immigration system is the manner in which they administer information. You may never know when the U.S. immigration can use your own personal information against you and deny you any of the U.S. government benefits that you may be pursuing.

gavel on top of text that says "Freedom of Information Act"Before you consider applying for a U.S. government benefit it is always advisable to consult with an expert U.S. immigration attorney who can guide you and show you the options available, as well as any advantages or risks that you might face if you choose to go ahead and submit information to the U.S. Immigration authorities.

In some instances a foreigner may face some difficulties when applying for a U.S. government benefit such as a U.S. green card, whether family or employment-based; all because of the information the U.S. immigration may have on a person. These obstacles may come in the form of a very lengthy process or an instant denial of a green card or any other benefit.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

This law helps individuals obtain all the information the U.S. immigration has stored on them. Any person requesting a copy or copies of the file(s) must ask for information that is applicable to a case. This information is also known as an (A File).

For a case to be effective, especially when applying for a U.S. green card or a Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, the applicant must know his criminal, immigration and personal history and see if the appropriate U.S. agencies are willing to release such information.

The immigrant requesting information from U.S. immigration authorities must also be aware that in some particular circumstances it is not recommendable to seek an FOIA request; the U.S. government will directly decline and not provide applicant the necessary information.

In other situations making an FOIA request is not advisable as the process may be more lengthy than a normal case.

Steps to Making an FOIA Request

Like any other U.S. government benefits there are certain steps to follow:

  • Always identify the type of information you will need.
  • Find out which U.S. government office holds your information.
  • Recognize the ideal purpose as to why you need the immigration file and background information.

First Step: Identify the Type of Information You Need

Identifying the type of information you need is important before making an FOIA request. If the information you need is irrelevant to the case you will need it for; you will have a weak FOIA application.

It is through this type of information that one will know if requesting an FOIA is the right mechanism to obtaining one’s immigration information. In some cases, it would be more practical to submit an application to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) when requesting an FOIA for a criminal background check.

For a more secure shot at obtaining criminal, immigration or personal information, a foreigner, must consult the assistance of an immigration attorney.

An attorney can help you get one step closer to achieving your desired goal and can direct you to the government office that may have the necessary information you are seeking.

Second Step: Find Out Which Government Office Holds Your Information

Finding out which government office holds your information will determine the success of your FOIA request. For example: a request for an immigrant’s A-File can be forwarded to the USCIS and for records regarding entries and exits to and from the U.S., customs documentation, charges for removal proceedings or deportability along with other evidence are held by the United States Customs and Border Protection or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

As long as you are in removal proceedings in the presence of a U.S. Immigration Court, a regular FOIA request cannot be made to the court; one must file a motion and even still the request might not be granted.

Third Step: Recognize the ideal purpose as to why you need the immigration file and background information.

Placing an FOIA request simply because you need one to help your case is not enough. Every person applying for a government benefit must recognize their ideal purpose for obtaining an FOIA.

If your freedom and life are at risk and you are in a bind with U.S. immigration authorities it is best that you request an FOIA immediately and have Immigration officers expedite your FOIA request so you can receive your A-File quickly.

Consider this example: A foreigner enters the United States of America and applies for asylum because he or she fears for his or her life if they go back home. U.S. immigration officers will then review their asylum application and will notice that time is not in their favor and they will accelerate the FOIA request.

To help FOIA applicants the USCIS has designed a three-track system to monitor FOIA requests and they are:

  • For basic requests an FOIA might be approved within a timeframe of 20 days.
  • Complicated requests may be validated within a period of 30 days.
  • Expedited FOIA requests are for those who have been handed a Notice to Appear and are facing removal proceedings and must appear before a court hearing in the presence of an immigration judge.

Ultimately, applying for an FOIA request at any time is not ideal; only do so when necessary and when you know that it will benefit the purpose of your case.

Consult with a Professional Immigration Attorney

You will need legal advice if you are still uncertain about how to apply for an FOIA request and the FOIA processing. Consult with a professional immigration attorney.

The Gambacorta Law Office is able to help you. Feel free to call us at 847-443-9303 for an office consultation at any of the offices that are located in Arizona and Illinois.