Lawsuit Alleges ICE Violated FOIA Laws – The District Sentinel News Co-op

Border enforcement officials unlawfully denied an attorney access to her client’s immigration records, according to a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

The ACLU state chapter announced last week that it was taking action on behalf of Jennifer Smith, an immigration attorney who was told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that she couldn’t view her client’s file because the agency deemed her non-US citizen client to be a “fugitive.”

The ACLU contends in its suit that the immigration agency didn’t offer up a valid reason to skirt transparency laws.

According to the facts submitted to the court by the ACLU, Smith submitted a FOIA request in 2013 with US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeking her client’s “Complete Alien File.” USCIS located the records Smith had requested and the agency turned them over to ICE for review, which ultimately decided not to release the file.

It took Smith more than two years to receive an official explanation from the agency on why the documents were withheld. ICE informed her in 2015 that it believes her client is a fugitive.

“It is ICE’s practice to deny fugitive alien FOIA requesters access to the FOIA process when the records requested could assist the alien in continuing to evade immigration enforcement efforts,” the agency claimed in reply to Smith’s inquiries.

The ACLU argues in its suit, however, that ICE’s provided reason for suppression doesn’t fit under the nine statutory exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

“ICE relies solely on what it characterizes as its ‘practice’ of denying access to the FOIA process to persons the agency regards as ‘fugitive alien FOIA requesters,’” the filing states.

It adds that ICE’s policy “imposes significant burdens on lawyers who represent non-citizens in connection with immigration issues.”

“Without access to the FOIA process, a lawyer may have literally no place to start in assisting her client,” the filing goes on to say.

In a press release about the lawsuit, the ACLU noted that “Immigration attorneys have limited discovery options and can generally gain access to a client’s immigration file only by filing a FOIA request.”

The ACLU is seeking the full release of the requested records, an acknowledgment that ICE’s policy violates FOIA laws, and reimbursement for all of Smith’s legal fees.

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