The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a federal law that requires disclosure of information and documents upon request. Once a request is submitted, the agency from which you are requesting documents will process your request and return all reasonable documents found in relation to your request. Some documents may be redacted when it is determined that some information cannot be released.
You can request your own documents or an attorney can file a request on your behalf. Any requests submitted by someone other than yourself must include your authorization to release documents to that requestor.
For immigration records, FOIA requests can be made to any federal agency including: USCIS, CBP, ICE, EOIR, Department of State.
When should you file a FOIA request?
Filing a FOIA request can be used at any time. The best time to use it is when you are missing documentation, such as a case decision from USCIS or Notice to Appear, or when you cannot remember or are not sure on the outcome of a past situation.
How do I submit a FOIA request?
The method for submitting your FOIA request will vary on the agency. Each agency will have its own process, which may include specific forms. The process can be found on each agency's website.
How long does it take to process a FOIA request?
The processing time will vary by agency and depend on the complexity of your request. Generally, requests will be processed on a first in, first out basis. However, requests for larger amounts of information may take longer than a simple request. Generally, you will want to plan for at least a couple months wait for your documents.
You can request expedited processing of your request in two instances. The agency you are requesting documents from may also have additional criteria for expedited processing. First, an expedite can be requested where lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose a threat to someone's life or physical safety. Second, an expedite can be requested if there is an urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person who is primarily engaged in disseminating information, his or her request will be expedited.
How much does a FOIA request cost?
There is no fee to make a FOIA request. There is usually no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of duplication, but fees may be necessary for work done beyond that.
On the FOIA.gov website, it states:
You may always include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If an agency estimates that the total fees for processing your request will exceed $25, it will notify you in writing of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. If you agree to pay fees for a records search, you may be required to pay such fees even if the search does not locate any releasable records.
In our experience at the Law Offices of James D. Eiss, we have never had fees charged in response to a FOIA request.