Asylum FOIA Victory in SF: Martins v. USCIS

"Immigration officials must hand over notes asylum officers take, a federal judge ruled, finding the documents essential to quality representation in immigration proceedings.

San Francisco-based immigration attorney Jeffrey Martins sued the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and its director, Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano under the Freedom of Information Act. While immigration officials made good on some of Martins' recent requests, they specifically withheld notes taken by officers at asylum interviews, contained in alien records known as "A-files."

To date, the agencies have withheld the A-files of 10 of Martins' clients - all of whom face immigration hearings and possible deportation this year. The agencies argued that the interview notes are protected by the deliberative process privilege, therefore exempting them from FOIA requirements.

But U.S. District Judge Laurel Beeler disagreed, finding the government failed to show how the deliberative process applies to interview notes. She also rejected contentions by officials that Martins' request is premature since they have not yet laid out which documents they plan to withhold and why in a Vaughn index, a file that takes its name from the 1973 case Vaughn v. Rosen.

"The court believes that Mr. Martins has shown - to the extent he can without actually seeing the documents or having a Vaughn index - that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his FOIA claim," Beeler wrote." - CNS, July 10, 2013.