Lawsuit Challenges Systemic USCIS and ICE FOIA Delays

Lawsuit Challenges Systemic USCIS and ICE FOIA Delays

Nightingale et al. v. USCIS et al., 3:19-cv-03512  (N.D. Cal. filed June 19, 2019)

STATUS:
Pending

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), individuals must receive a determination on requests for information within a maximum of 30 days. However, individuals and attorneys who file FOIAs with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for copies of immigration files, or “A-Files”, routinely face waiting times well over 30 days ⁠— in some cases, the wait can be months. 

Further, USCIS exacerbates delays by often referring requests to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to handle responsive FOIA documents in ICE’s possession. As a result, USCIS and ICE have substantial FOIA backlogs and individuals live in legal limbo, enduring emotional and financial hardship as they grapple with how ⁠— or whether ⁠— to proceed with an immigration benefit or defense. 

To challenge these systemic violations, the American Immigration Council and its partners, National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, filed a nationwide class action in federal district court. The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), USCIS, and ICE routinely violate the FOIA statute and fail to allocate enough resources to reduce backlogs and provide timely determinations on FOIA requests. 

On October 15, 2019, the court certified two classes:  

USCIS Class: All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS which have been pending, or will be pending, with USCIS for more than 30 business days without a determination.  

ICE Referral Class: All individuals who filed, or will file, A-File FOIA requests with USCIS that USCIS has referred, or will refer, to ICE and which have been pending, or will be pending, for more than 30 business days from the date of the initial filing with USCIS without a determination. 

The parties completed summary judgment briefing and a hearing took place on December 9, 2020. On December 17, the court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor, granting injunctive and declaratory relief. The court:

  1. permanently enjoined defendants from further failing to adhere to FOIA statutory deadlines for adjudicating A-File FOIA requests;
  2. ordered defendants to make determinations on all A-File FOIA requests in USCIS’s and ICE’s backlogs within sixty (60) days; and
  3. ordered defendants to provide the court and class counsel with quarterly compliance reports, with the first report due within ninety (90) days.

Follow this case:

December 18, 2020

People who need access to their government immigration records scored a huge victory in the Nightingale et al. v. USCIS case on December 17. A judge ruled that a nationwide class of individuals...

October 17, 2019

A federal court in San Francisco certified two nationwide classes of immigrants and attorneys challenging extreme agency delays in producing immigration case files. Plaintiffs allege that U.S....

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