USCIS Pushing Online FOIA Requests Hard

The Freedom of Information Act 5 U.S.C. § 552, is the United States’ federal law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased or uncirculated information and documents controlled by the U.S. Federal Government upon request [full text of 5 U.S.C.§552]. The act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures, and includes nine exemptions that define categories of information not subject to disclosure. The act was intended to make U.S. government agencies’ functions more transparent so that the American public could more easily identify problems in government functioning and put pressure on Congress, agency officials, and the president to address them. The FOIA has been changed repeatedly by both the legislative and executive branches.

In the context of immigration law FOIA requests are a powerful and commonly used tool since it allows for immigrants to get a copy of their immigration file and the records the government has on them. This is done sometimes because immigrants lost documents or they had a lawyer that never gave them the documents, or sometimes to see if there are records of them being stopped years ago, and if so, to find out what exactly happened during that prior encounter with immigration since often the immigrant will not have any idea what was happening since everyone was speaking English at the time.

They are also an important tool for journalists to be able to obtain information and proof for stories about the government. News organizations often use FOIA for reporting purposes, but such requests still only make up less than 10% of all FOIA requests.

For more information about the Freedom of Information Act or to learn how to file a FOIA request see our FOIA page or our How-To FOIA Guide.

USCIS’ EMAIL RESPONSE TO REQUESTS SENT BY MAIL

If you submit a FOIA request by regular mail, which is still an option despite USCIS hiding all information about how to do so on their website, then USCIS send the following email once they receive the request sent by mail (copied and pasted from my email including the typo in USCIS’ automated email):

Hello,

You recently requested information from us under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In response to COVID-19, we must temporarily reduce our capacity for processing paper FOIA requests and delivering records by mail.

We strongly recommend that you https://first.uscis.gov to receive a faster response and to help keep our workforce safe.

Step 1: Create a USCIS account to receive information online

  1. Visit the USCIS online account page at https://first.uscis.gov, and click “Create an Account”.
  2. Set up your email address login, two-step verification, and the security question answers.
  3. Once you have fully logged in, select FIRST to find your FOIA request.

Step 2: Link Your Request to Your Online Account

  1. After you login, click the “View My Requests” button.
  2. A message will appear, asking if you have a new request to register. Click “Yes”.
  3. Enter the FOIA control number and PIN we mailed to you and click the “Register Case” button.
  4. Success! You will see your request on the “My Requests” page in your account.

Step 3: Use the My Requests Page

  1. Now you can check the My Requests page to see the status of your request.
  2. We will notify you by email to check this page when the information you requested is ready.
  3. Once we post the information here, you can view or download anytime.

Thanks for helping us provide you with a more efficient service!

USCIS

If you have troubles logging into your account, please call the USCIS Contact Center toll-free at 800-375-5283.
For people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability: TTY 800-767-1833.

THIS RESPONSE HAS BEEN AUTO GENERATED. PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE.

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U.S. IMMIGRATION LAW