Border enforcement officials unlawfully deniedÂ an attorney access to her clientâs 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 couldnât view her clientâs file because the agency deemed her non-US citizen clientÂ to be a âfugitive.â
The ACLU contendsÂ in its suit that the immigration agency didnât 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 clientâs âComplete Alien File.âÂ 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.
âIt is ICEâs 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,â the agency claimed in reply to Smith’s inquiries.
The ACLU argues in its suit, however, that ICEâs provided reason for suppression doesnât fit under the nine statutory exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.
âICE relies solely on what it characterizes as its âpracticeâ of denying access to the FOIA process to persons the agency regards as âfugitive alien FOIA requesters,ââ the filing states.
It adds that ICE’s policy “imposes significant burdens on lawyers who represent non-citizens in connection with immigration issues.â
âWithout access to the FOIA process, a lawyer may have literally no place to start in assisting her client,â the filing goes on to say.
In a press release about the lawsuit, the ACLU noted that âImmigration attorneys have limited discovery options and can generally gain access to a clientâs immigration file only by filing a FOIA request.â
The ACLU is seeking the full release of the requested records, an acknowledgment that ICEâs policy violates FOIA laws, and reimbursement for all of Smithâs legal fees.