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FOIA Requests Filed With DHS In FY2004

by Sheela Murthy

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Privacy Office has released the DHS's Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) annual report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. For the report, see here.

Overall Summary of FOIAs Responses

During FY2004 (October 1, 2003 through September 30, 2004) over 152,000 FOIA and Privacy Act requests were processed. Approximately 33 percent received a full release of the requested data while 40 percent received a partial release. The responses for other requests varied, including that DHS had no responsive records; DHS had transferred the records to another agency; the request was withdrawn; or the documents were exempt from release.

Response to FOIA Requests

Response times to FOIAs varied. For simple requests, response times ranged from 19 to 84 days. Complex requests took between 5 and 111 days. The DHS does, however, have a backlog of FOIA requests. At the end of FY2004, 46,000 FOIA requests were backlogged.

When and Where to File the FOIA Request

When there are unanswered questions about filings and case history, an FOIA request can be beneficial. Most immigration-related cases do not require the filing of an FOIA request with the DHS. In cases where a petition or application was filed, but the applicant or petitioner did not retain a copy of the filing, filing an FOIA with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may be more useful since it is the agency with which the filing may exist. If the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not permit an individual to enter the country, filing an FOIA to request the CBP records may assist the person in determining the reason for the denial and assess whether the CBP has any incorrect information.

No Guarantee that All Documents will be Provided

As indicated in the statistics above, an FOIA filing does not always result in the federal agency providing all of the documents requested in a particular case. There are specific FOIA provisions determining what information may be given and what should not be released. Some documents are released in part. Certain internal agency documents pertaining to investigations may be omitted. Other documents may be withheld for security and privacy reasons. While there is an appeal process, there are simply some documents that can never be obtained under the FOIA provisions.

Specific versus General FOIA

Typically, a specific FOIA will only request documents associated with one event, such as an H1B petition filing. It will be written narrowly and will only ask for documents related to that petition filing. A general FOIA, however, may ask for everything the government has on a particular person or a variety of issues.

Usually, a specific FOIA will receive a faster response because there will be fewer documents for the DHS to review, copy, and send. The documents must each be reviewed to determine whether there are any reasons to exclude the documents from release. The more expansive or open-ended requests are generally placed on a slower track and take more time to process. There are times, however, when the case history and facts are sufficiently unclear, so that a general FOIA may be the only way to get the needed information.


Besides the individual concerned or the employer in a particular case, often the press or media files under the FOIA to obtain copies of the internal workings of an agency to share that information with the public. FOIA can be a powerful tool that allows the public and the media to monitor federal agencies, especially when there is a concern that individual liberties may be trespassed under the guise of protecting and providing security for the masses. This summary on FOIA released by DHS will help a person wishing to file an FOIA request with the DHS, or any other agency, to better understand the possible delays and problems in obtaining all the required documents pursuant to an FOIA filing.

This article originally appeared in Murthy Bulletin on Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Sheela Murthy is the founder of the Law Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. which consists of over 45 full time attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, who provide excellent service in the area of U.S. Immigration Law to clients worldwide. The Office of Sheela Murthy, P.C. handles cases ranging from Fortune 500 companies, mid-sized and small companies, to individuals who are undergoing the U.S. immigration process. A graduate of Harvard Law School with an LL.M degree and herself an immigrant, Attorney Murthy understands the complexities of immigration and empathizes with those faced with its challenges.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.