Immigration Law

Immigration Attys Sue CBP Over 'Sluggish' FOIA Responses

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection is violating federal laws and stymieing immigration relief petitions by routinely failing to timely respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, immigration lawyers and noncitizens contended Wednesday in their amended putative class action.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of tens of thousands of people who waited longer than the required 20 business days to receive CBP's responses to FOIA requests, according to an amended complaint and a class certification motion filed in California federal court Wednesday.

“CBP’s FOIA backlog is staggeringly high,” the plaintiffs argued. “Any effort that CBP has made to clear this backlog has been wholly inadequate and ineffectual.”

CBP had a backlog of 4,365 requests at the end of fiscal year 2011, 10,648 requests in 2012, 37,848 requests in 2013 and 34,307 requests in 2014, according to the amended complaint. The total number of FOIA requests CBP received increased by 47.2 percent over the 2011-2014 fiscal period, from 32,107 to 47,261.

By comparison, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had a backlog of 5,026 cases in fiscal year 2014, despite having received 143,794 FOIA requests, more than three times the requests CBP received in the same year, according to the amended complaint. Meanwhile, CBP received more than four times the funding USCIS did in fiscal year 2014 and was the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency that had the largest budget that year.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to instruct CBP to respond to the backlogged FOIA requests within 60 business days of the order and to pay their costs and attorneys’ fees.

CBP officials could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The plaintiffs comprise five immigration attorneys and 13 noncitizens who filed FOIA requests with CBP. The attorneys routinely file FOIA requests with CBP on behalf of clients, to obtain information as part of a defense against deportation orders or for permanent resident status applications.

The noncitizens have been waiting from five to 25 months for CBP to provide them information necessary for lawful permanent resident status applications, according to the amended complaint.

The plaintiffs are represented by Matt Adams of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Trina Realmuto of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Mary Kenney and Melissa Crow of the American Immigration Council, and Stacy Tolchin of the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin.

Counsel information for the defendants wasn't immediately available.

The case is Brown et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et al., case number 3:15-cv-01181, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California." - Law360, Apr. 23, 3015.