Three immigration attorneys and two noncitizens have filed a proposed class action in which they allege the U.S. government unlawfully delays providing alien registration files to noncitizens seeking immigration benefits.
Three immigration attorneys and two noncitizens have filed a proposed class action in which they allege the U.S. government unlawfully delays providing Freedom of Information Act-requested alien registration files to noncitizens seeking immigration benefits.
Filed against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE, the lawsuit out of California explains that alien registration files, known as A-Files, are documents that contain critical information in determining “noncitizens’ eligibility to apply for an immigration benefit or status, including lawful permanent resident status.” This information can also be used to protect noncitizens from deportation, the suit states.
The case charges that DHS, which spearheads deportations and has access to the documents noncitizens need, puts immigrants at a disadvantage by withholding critical files for longer than it’s legally allowed to. The effect of the delay, the lawsuit says, is that without the information within a complete A-File, an individual applying for lawful permanent resident status may be forced to leave the U.S. and wait in their country of origin for a prolonged period in order to come back. Conversely, the suit states, those who face deportation and lack evidence contained in a complete A-File may be unable to use a qualifying immigrant visa petition to make their argument before an immigration judge.
Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the defendants are required to process requests for A-Files within 20 business days and can invoke an additional 10 days in “unusual circumstances,” according to the suit. Nevertheless, noncitizens typically wait months before receiving their A-Files from the defendants, the lawsuit alleges. The case says USCIS’s own website indicates that the average processing time for A-Files is between 55 and 90 days—well over the legal limit.
The case goes on to allege that USCIS fails to produce entire A-Files and, instead, refers portions of the documents to ICE, which then determines whether to disclose certain information. These referrals further delay the processing of A-File requests, the suit says, pointing out that cases are supposed to be assigned deadlines based on when they are first received by USCIS that should not be extended when they get bumped to ICE.