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American Civil Liberties Union Files Lawsuit against ICE and USCIS for Open Records Law Violation

shutterstock_214570486-300x200The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against immigration officials, claiming that they have denied access to documents requested by a lawyer who is representing a client in immigration court.

Violation of the Freedom of Information Act

ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, claiming that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by refusing to release 18 documents relevant to immigration proceedings.

The ACLU also claims that the two agencies make a habit of denying “access to the FOIA process when the records requested could assist the alien in continuing to evade immigration enforcement efforts.”

The FOIA governs how agencies are to release documents to the public. There are nine reasons provided in the law that allow for the denial of release of records. According to the lawsuit, the agencies have not been able to justify why they withheld the documents because they have not provided any one of the nine reasons.

Jennifer Smith, the attorney representing the migrant, claims that finding a way to fix her client’s immigration status is impossible without the records. She said, “Unlike other areas of litigation, in immigration court or any immigration proceedings, there is no discovery. FOIA is really a lifeline to understanding a client’s case.”

When Smith submitted her request to the USCIS in 2013, she was told that the 18 documents would only be released if the request had been made to the ICE. Smith once again filed a request at the ICE, but it took two years for the ICE officials to respond to Smith’s request. When they did, all they told Smith was that her client was a fugitive and would be denied access to the open records law process.

A Question on Releasing and Denying Documents

ACLU claims that the lawsuit is not only for Smith to get the documents she needs, but it also aims to establish clarity on the agencies’ powers to deny and release records.

According to the 2013 annual report of the Department of Homeland Security, the ICE and USCIS are two of the department’s agencies with the highest denial rates. The report revealed that many of these denials were made due to “reasons other than exemptions.”

“From a pure law-and-order perspective, we want the government to follow the law,” said Mark Silverstein, an ACLU lawyer who filed the suit.

If you need legal assistance with your immigration status, do not hesitate to contact Lyttle Law Firm at 512-215-5225. We can assist you in matters concerning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Visas, Appeals, Waivers, Deportation, and Citizenship.