For those in the US who are facing deportation, a backlog of cases could be hurting their ability to fight deportation and get the facts about their cases. Immigrant advocates and attorneys say that bureaucracy and backlogs are delaying requests for information. Some blame indifference for the delays. In any event, those who are requesting documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Freedom of Information Act as well as those making petitions to the USCIS as they face deportation are reporting delays.
In some cases, immigration attorneys report that they get a response to their Freedom of Information Act only well after a client has already been deported. This is despite the fact that the immigration files are crucial in allowing an attorney to mount a defense for their clients. As many immigration attorneys note, they need all the immigration files in order to help a client, and they have problems currently accessing these files through the USCIS. Worse, according to many immigration attorneys local immigration courts often deny requests to delay deportation, even when the request is made because the client is waiting for immigration files to arrive. Some attorneys claim that the situation threatens constitutional and due process rights.
Tim Counts of the USCIS has acknowledged that there is a problem in terms of processing Freedom of Information Act promptly and the agency does understand that in some cases this causes people to get deported before the immigration files are sent. However, Counts notes that part of the problem is that some Freedom of Information Act requests are complex and the agency receives so many requests that it is difficult to speed up the process. According to Counts, the USCIS plans to hire 30 more workers to the current contingent of 150 workers who are responsible for Freedom of Information Act requests. Already, he notes, the USCIS has reduced the backlog over the past 5 years, despite getting more requests than any other federal agency. Each year, the USCIS processes approximately 100 000 requests. Counts promises that the agency is continuing to work to reduce the backlog.
The USCIS does allow petitioners to fax in Freedom of Information Act requests and even request faster processing, but according to attorneys this does not produce faster results. This can be frustrating, especially since law requires federal agencies to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests within 20 days. In unusual circumstances, agencies can extend that timeline by ten days, but according to immigration attorneys most Freedom of Information Act requests sent to the USCIS take longer than that.