If you are trying to obtain an immigration benefit or want to sponsor someone for one, it is important to have as much information as possible. After all, past issues can cause major problems for your current situation. Moreover, you do not want to do anything that might cause negative scrutiny from immigration officials.
It can be difficult to remember every interaction you have had with immigration authorities, of course. This is especially true if you came to the U.S. when you were a young child. If you are not certain about your immigration history, the Freedom of Information Act can be incredibly helpful.
What is FOIA?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, FOIA is a 1967 law that allows members of the public to request and obtain information from federal government agencies. Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you can file a FOIA request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol or immigration court.
What can FOIA tell you?
Your FOIA results might include details about previous immigration-related matters, such as petitions or applications for immigration benefits. You might also learn whether you have been the subject of voluntary departure or even a removal order.
How long does a FOIA request take?
After filing a FOIA request, the receiving agency should get back to you with the requested documentation within a reasonable period of time unless doing so would violate the law or endanger national security. Still, the reply might come with redactions, as the government agency may have a reason to keep some of the information private.
While FOIA is a valuable tool for many immigration applicants and their relatives, not everyone needs to go through the FOIA process. Ultimately, though, if you have questions or concerns about your immigration history, filing a FOIA request before doing anything else might be wise.