The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows individuals to access information from federal agencies. The purpose behind FOIA is to promote open, transparent government. Our law firm uses FOIA requests often to learn more about a client’s immigration history, such as getting copies of previously filed applications and petitions, or getting information about prior encounters with officers enforcing immigration law at airports and the border. Examples of immigration-related FOIA requests include:
- Request a copy of your alien file (A-file) from USCIS
- Request your entry-exit records from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Request prior visa applications and consular officer decisions from the State Department
FOIA states that an agency “shall” provide records to “any person” who (1) reasonably describes those records and (2) submits the request in accordance with agency rules. Still, there are nine exemptions that allow the agencies to withhold information. For example, records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes are exempt if they would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions. The statute requires that an agency narrowly construe these exemptions and the burden is on the agency to demonstrate that it has withheld information subject to an exemption.