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FAQ: Freedom of Information Act

Frequently Asked Questions - The Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal statute. FOIA generally provides that any person has a right to request access to federal agency records. FOIA also establishes a presumption that records in the possession of agencies and departments of the Executive Branch of the U. S. government are accessible to the people, except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.

A FOIA request is a written request received by a U.S. federal agency from any individual or entity requesting records including databases held or believed to be held by an agency. Letters, electronic, and faxes are all considered to be written requests.

Anyone. U.S. citizens (and non-U.S. citizens), corporations, associations, public interest groups, private individuals, universities, and local, state or foreign governments can all submit FOIA requests.

A record is any CBP/USCIS/ICE/EOIR document, writing, photograph, sound or magnetic recording, drawing, computerized record (disks, database), electronic mail, agency policy and decision or anything in which information can be retrieved and/or copied.

For your own immigration records it will usually cost you nothing. 

There is no fee to file a FOIA request. FOIA established four fee categories that agencies use to determine if fees will be charged:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, reviewing the records, and photocopying them;
  2. New media, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions are charged for photocopying, after the first 100 pages;
  3. All other requesters (requestors who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours.

In the event that fees are incurred beyond what you are entitled to for free, please indicate a specific amount that you are willing to pay.  If you do not indicate another amount in FOIA online, please be advised that some agency regulations provide that making a FOIA request represents an agreement to pay fees up to $25.

Usually, when you are requesting records about yourself from immigration it will not cost you anything. 

We have an entire page dedicated to showing you how to do that. Please see our page, How to Make A FOIA Request.

 

You can also find a template FOIA request letter and the required forms that you can use to file a FOIA request yourself 

In general, the FOIA requires an agency to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days after the office that maintains the responsive records receives the request. The business day response requirement is not necessarily the time frame for releasing responsive documents.

The Department processes its requests by date of receipt at the proper office maintaining the required records on a first-in, first-out basis, except for exceptions outlined in the FOIA and the Department of Homeland Security FOIA implementing regulations.

Expedited Processing

Under certain conditions, your request may receive expedited processing if you meet the criteria established in our regulations. However, an expedited request will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis with other expedited requests. 

Requests and appeals will be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever it is determined that they involve:

  • Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be
    expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an
    individual;
  • An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal
    government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.

Yes! You can scan in fingerprint cards and upload them into our system. We do not need the physical copy of a fingerprint card to search for records. Scanning your fingerprint cards and submitting them through the system reduces delays in our response. It also allows us to spend less time opening mail and more time processing records!

 

Yes you can.  You can find out more about appealing a FOIA on our FOIA Information Page.

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