FOIA Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of the CBP Officer’s Reference Tool

AILA v. DHS et. al., No. 1:16-cv-02470 (D.D.C. filed 12/19/16)


On behalf of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Immigration Council, in cooperation with Foley & Lardner LLP, filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seeking the public release of CBP’s Officer’s Reference Tool (ORT). The ORT replaced the CBP Inspector’s Field Manual (IFM), which previously provided guidance regarding the inspection and admission of individuals to the United States at U.S. ports of entry. This FOIA lawsuit seeks to ensure that CBP makes a copy of the ORT available to the public, as it did with the IFM.

The Council and its partners filed suit after CBP failed to respond to a 2013 FOIA After the case was filed, CBP disclosed only a handful of documents—primarily, indices of two ORT chapters without any substantive information—and then moved for summary judgment, claiming that it was not required to search for or produce any additional documents.

In March 2018, the court found that CBP was required to review and disclose responsive records, including underlying policies and documents that form the basis of the ORT. In late 2018, CBP produced many of the documents from Chapter 11 of the ORT, which provides guidance on CBP’s Admissibility Policies. In March 2019, the Court ordered Defendants to produce a Vaughn index and additional information about its search for responsive records. CBP subsequently produced additional documents and two Vaughn indices. On behalf of AILA, the Council continues to challenge CBP’s decision to withhold certain responsive records.

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