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Court Orders USCIS and ICE To Produce A-Files

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Court Orders USCIS and ICE To Produce A-Files

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For most immigrants, the only way to access their immigration records (often called “A-files”) that are maintained by the government is to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  While this law requires the government to make a determination on the request within a few weeks, most individuals and their attorneys wait many months for a response.

A recent court order by a federal court aims to remedy this problem. On December 17, 2020, the court in Nightingale v. USCIS ordered that U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) must:

  • Follow the processing guidelines required under the Freedom of Information Act, which generally require that the agencies respond to requests within 20 business days;
  • Make a determination within 60 days of the court order on all backlogged FOIA requests
  • Provide court and legal counsel for the class of plaintiffs with quarterly compliance reports

Information contained in an individual’s A-file is critical in allowing noncitizens to make informed decisions as they apply for immigration benefits or defend against removal. For those in immigration detention, the government’s delay in responding to FOIA requests can have particularly serious consequences, as they must seek continuances in their court cases. The court explains that “continuances result in longer detention, which, for some, is intolerable and leads them to abandon meritorious claims in order to end detention.”

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