Many undocumented or “illegal” aliens are understandably concerned and apprehensive about President-elect Trump’s impending immigration policies once he takes office on January 20. Many have opined that he will likely cancel DACA and institute more aggressive enforcement methods. Of course, no one knows for sure. All of us will just have to wait and see. Regardless, it remains critical for those who are potentially affected to take prudent action now. Mr. Trump will certainly tackle immigration head on, but it may not necessarily be the first item on his agenda. Undocumented individuals and those who are out of status should definitely be consulting with attorneys who can evaluate their options. But there is also something else that people should consider doing, if they haven’t already, and that is securing a copy of their immigration file if one exists (and sometimes to confirm whether or not there is an immigration record). This is done through a Freedom of Information Act (or “FOIA” for short) request. If an individual has already obtained a copy of his/her records, it will help an attorney tremendously in getting an accurate picture of a person’s circumstances and eliminate a lot of guesswork. If one does not have a copy, the attorney may still conduct an evaluation but may need to conduct a FOIA request in any case to confirm information or to base one’s opinion on.
Although the process sounds relatively easy, the actual mechanics and practice of FOIA Requests can be surprisingly complex and incredibly frustrating, especially if one is not familiar with the process. One hard lesson which most attorneys have come to learn is that FOIA requests take time. A typical request can ordinarily takes months, not days or weeks. In many cases, an agency may not cooperate with the request or attempt to withhold information under certain exemptions. Depending on the circumstances, the requestor may need to re-craft the request or consider filing an appeal. Another important point which many have overlooked, to their detriment, is that FOIA requests need to be directed to the proper agency. Filing a request with the Immigration Court, for example, will not generate any records that belong to or remain within the purview of USCIS. Similarly, filing a request with USCIS will not necessarily yield information one may need pertaining to an encounter by CBP at the border. Some of the agencies which one may need to consider include but are not limited to:
USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services)
CBP (Customs and Border Protection)
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review)
Most requests can be filed on Form G-639, but it is important to read the instructions for each agency carefully, as each agency has its own addresses and particular policies.
With the appropriate information, an attorney can help formulate a sensible and realistic strategy to either pursue/preserve status or protect one from removal from the United States. For more information, please contact our office. Remember that the foregoing is not legal advice nor is it intended to establish an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal help or advice, please consult with an attorney.