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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

CONGRESS SET TO GIVE SMACKDOWN TO USCIS ON FOIA REQUESTS

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James Ho, who wrote the excellent birthright citizenship opinion piece I posted last week, reports on a major development that could dramatically improve processing times for Freedom of Information Act requests from USCIS as well as other immigration agencies. While the Freedom of Information Act requires a government agency to provide requested information within 10 days, that deadline is routinely ignored by USCIS and the agency can take many months - sometimes years - to comply with the request. For many immigrants, this delay can mean the difference between deportation and a green card.



As Ho notes in a new article, there are signs of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, at least if you can get away from measures directly addressing immigration and Iraq. A bill already approved in the Senate, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act, or OPEN Government Act, is matched by a similar bill in the House that has already passed. Soon both Houses of Congress should be able to reconcile the two measures and send it to the President for signature. The new law would put some teeth into FOIA and force scofflaw agencies like USCIS to follow the law and meet the required deadlines. There's a bit of poetic justice here since USCIS is usually completely unforgiving when it comes to excusing tardiness by its customers. Oh well, live by the sword, die by the sword...



The bill also will grant "news media" status to bloggers and other online news sources - woohoo! Can't wait to hear readers' ideas for what we would like to learn from USCIS.



The current FOIA law allows for the payment of attorney fees, but because many cases don't involve actual measurable financial damages, agencies have gotten away with paying nothing. This, of course, has discouraged people from filing legitimate suits to challenge an agency. OPEN Government would require lawyers fees be paid if there are no monetary damages in a case.



I'll report when this bill becomes law and look forward to hearing from people regarding USCIS' implementation of the statute.


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Comments

  1. Seraphi's Avatar
    So, will this OPEN Government Act be likely to speed up processing times on just about every aspect of immigration? From EB3 to H-1B and beyond, if only slightly? Is this - dare I say it - actually some good news for once?
  2. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    Sorry Seraphi - Just FOIA requests, not visa benefits.
  3. USC's Avatar
    Here is another area we need to address via the FOIA

    USA v USCs:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/21/AR2007092102347.html

    As regards Greg's comments I wanted to review what INS had on me in their files. I made a FOIA request on the forms that they provide for this purpose on May 2, 2007. I received an acknowledgement from INS that they had received the request and that they considered it a "complex" matter (how can copying their files and sending it to me be a complex matter?) and that I would get the information in due course. As of today I have heard nothing further.
  4. Seraphi's Avatar
    Ah well. As long as it helps *some* people stuck in the immigration vortex out there, if even a little - especially if it means the difference between deportation or not. - it's a score for Congress for once, and a step in the right direction.

    And they don't score very high these days, it seems. I was taken by Greg's suspicion on the ICE raids, though. That was a very interesting theory.
  5. Middle Ground's Avatar
    This works great for everyone. My FOIA requests for aggregate data were ignored - from a variety of agencies. They didn't even have the common decency to reject them. Just ignored the requests. It was as if I didn't exist.

    The who blogger status is fantastic.

    I don't think anyone, no matter what side they are on, supports less openess. Pay special attention to those who vote against this. I wouldn't be surprised if Bush vetos the bill.
  6. JB's Avatar
    I wonder what this legislation will do for those of us with requests already pending? And what exactly do they mean when they say that the gov't must reply to a FOIA request within a certain amount of time? I got a reply within the stated time period-- it just said that I was number 79,000 on the waiting list to have my request filled (12-18 months is what I was told). My request is of a personal nature (family immigration record), so it wouldn't make much sense to sue over it. It's just ridiculous to have to wait so long. I'm sure any one of use would be happy to pay a fee if we could get these records in a reasonable time period.
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