Comments Recommend USCIS Clarify FOIA Request Process

May 5, 2022

The Council, ILRC and AILA submitted comments on USCIS suggested changes to Form G-639 and Instructions. The G-639 Form and Instructions are used to submit FOIA requests to USCIS by mail.

USCIS’ suggested changes to the Instructions include language that heavily promotes the use of FIRST, an online system for submitting FOIA requests to USCIS. The comments point out that though there are advantages to a more efficient and streamlined process for submitting FOIA requests, FIRST is still a relatively new program and there is no publicly available assessment or data documenting FIRST’s efficiencies in detail. The comments suggest that language lauding FIRST not be the focus of Instructions for the Form G-639—a Form intended for FOIA requests when an individual chooses not to use an online system to submit FOIA requests to USCIS.

The comments also suggest that USCIS clearly explain that the statutory timeframes for making a determination on a FOIA request is the same for a FOIA request submitted 1) with a G-639, 2) in writing without use of the Form, and 3) through FIRST. Language in the Instructions state the FIRST system processes FOIA requests more quickly and efficiently. This is problematic to the extent it implies a person may not receive a response to a FOIA request in the relatively short statutory timeframe—twenty or thirty days—using other methods.

The comments also state that the Form G-639 should not require country of birth information and FIRST also should not require information verifying identity to complete an online FOIA request. The comments suggest the Form G-639 be revised to remove the field “Country of Birth.” At a minimum, the Form G-639 and Instructions should explicitly state that an individual’s country of birth is not required to process a FOIA request. The comments explain that an individual might not want to share their country of birth with a government agency because this admission may seriously impact their immigration case.

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