What is a FOIA?
FOIA stands for ‘Freedom of Information Act,’ and refers to requesting documents from the government about a particular issue.
For immigrants and their family members FOIAs can be a powerful tool to obtain information about oneself, or a family member. If you need your paperwork about a stop at the border, or paperwork from an application your mother filed 20 years ago, you can obtain all of that from the government with a FOIA. FOIAs are a way to get a copy of your immigration file from the US government.
Who Can I FOIA?
You can file a FOIA on any government agency. Some of the agencies you may want to FOIA are the following:
- S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), under the Department of Justice (Immigration Court)
- S. Department of State (DOS)
You may want to FOIA more than one agency at a time, to obtain a complete picture of your immigration history. Your attorney can advise you on which agencies to FOIA.
What Type of Information Might I Get From a FOIA?
- Information on What Happened at the Border:
- If you entered the US without permission, and were stopped by Customs and Border Protection, you need to know exactly what happened before you file any applications for immigration benefits.
- If you were stopped and turned around at the border you may have been ‘deported,’ or something else may have taken place. You may have been deported, excluded, expeditedly removed, given voluntary departure, or voluntarily returned, to name a few.
- There are many different types of enforcement actions that could have occurred, and each one will have different consequences on an application you are filing in the future.
- Entries and Exits:
- You may simply need a list of your entries and exits. If you entered the US lawfully, you can typically obtain this information through the CBP I-94 website; however, sometimes you’ll need to FOIA CBP to obtain this information.
- Information on any enforcement action that occurred on the interior of the US:
- Similar to what could happen at the border, you may have had contact, or adverse contact with an immigration official in the interior of the US. You’ll want to know exactly what happened and the result of any interior enforcement actions.
- Applications for Benefits filed in the past:
- You may need copies of applications that you filed in the past, or that were filed on your behalf in the past. Similarly, you may need to know the outcome of past applications.
- Immigration Court Records:
- If you have had immigration court, you’ll need copies of any court records, court proceedings, or applications filed with the court.
How do we Obtain This Information:
- Each agency has its own method for filing a FOIA; however, many of them require, or recommend the use of Form G-639 Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request.
- Some agencies accept online FOIA requests. Your attorney will know how to file your FOIA request, depending on the agency.
- File Form G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request, and wait for your FOIA results to come back. Once your lawyer receives your records, you’ll review it carefully to see what exactly happened in your case, and what if any implications your immigration history has on future applications for benefits.
If you or a family member needs to obtain your immigration records, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced in filing simple and complex FOIA cases. Please feel free to call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help!