Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Benefits of Having a Copy of Your "A File" from USCIS or the Immigration Court through a FOIA Request

Obtaining a copy of your "Administrative" or "A" file from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has many benefits.  As most of our readers know, USCIS is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and it is responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities.  The Immigration Courts are a component of EOIR under the U.S. Department of Justice.

The request for a copy of the A-file is done through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The "A file" is basically a person's record maintained by USCIS (and legacy INS) since at least 1955. Generally speaking each individual should have only one A-file.  The A-file is created when action is required for a particular individual. This "action" can include for example petitioning for an immigrant visa, requesting an immigration benefit, the initiation of removal proceedings, or submitting an adjustment of status petition.  The A-file can also be created at "any other time a case file is needed". Once created, it contains all immigration records  for that particular non-citizen applicant.

I'm not very fond of the word "alien" so I use "non-citizen applicant" instead.  In all fairness to our friends at USCIS, the term "alien" is actually a statutory term defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  INA section 101(a)(3) defines an "alien" as any person not a citizen or national of the United States.

Although there are many reasons why an applicant should have a copy of his or her A file, here are some:   
  • It helps you determine whether or how to proceed with an application. In some cases the A file will reveal facts that may have not been disclosed previously or were simply forgotten.  Some of the information contained in the A file may affect eligibility for the benefit desired, or may affect where and how the application has to be submitted.
  • It will help you see what the immigration officer is seeing.  The A file will have the documents you submitted and those that others have submitted on your behalf.  The interviewing officer will be making his or her decision in part by what's in the record. It's important that the applicant also know what's in the file.
  • It helps you prepare.  By knowing what you have in the file, you can prepare adequately for an interview and anticipate issues that may be addressed.  In some cases many years have passed since the original A file was created and it's important to review the file. 
  • It helps you determine eligibility. In some cases obtaining a copy of the A file will help determine eligibility for the relief sought such as a Motion to Reopen or assist in documenting an application for relief.
  • It's free (for the most part). Most requests have no fees associated with them (unless the records are voluminous or take several hours to research).
Keep in mind that each agency has different procedures on how they handle FOIA requests.  Because every agency has different FOIA procedures, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be contacted separately.  Below is some information on how to submit a FOIA request with USCIS and EOIR. 
  • USCIS.  Utilize Form G-639USCIS' website has a lot of useful information that will assist you in preparing and submitting the application. 
  • EOIR (Immigration Court).   The request should be made in writing to EOIR. The request should have some information such as a description of the records sought, the applicant's name, "A number", and the date and court location of the proceedings.  A Certification of Identity (Form DOJ-361) may also be required.   For more information please review EOIR's Fact Sheet on FOIA requests. 
Done with time, the results of a FOIA request can be a very useful tool.  Keep in mind that FOIA requests take several months to process. Submitting the request as early as possible is the way to go.