(CN) - Customs and Border Protection refused to respond to nearly 38,000 Freedom of Information requests, immigration attorneys say in a federal class action.
Attorneys Meredith Brown of Glendale, Kelly Ryan of Denver, and Jeri Flynn of Baton Rouge sued Customs and Border Protection on March 12 in San Francisco on behalf of 11 co-plaintiff clients.
They say CBP has made them wait for more than a year for information, though its statutory response time is 20 days.
At the end of fiscal year 2013, CBP had nearly 38,000 FOIA requests that had been pending for more than 20 days, the attorneys say. This backlog was more than nine times greater than it had been at the close of 2011, despite enormous increases in CBP funding, according to the complaint.
The failure to respond affects the proposed class's ability to obtain legal permanent residency in the United States and other issues.
Though CBP receives "significantly more funding than its two counterparts within the Department of Homeland Security," Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and gets far fewer FOIA requests than its counterparts, it has far more backlogged requests, according to the complaint.
Customs and Border Protection received 41,381 FOIA requests in 2013 versus 132,797 received by Citizenship and Immigration Services, but Customs and Border Protection's backlog increased, while its counterpart's backlog decreased, the attorneys say.
The backlog hurts the attorneys' clients by making it impossible to ascertain the significance of their clients' interactions with Border Patrol officials and prevents the attorneys from "moving forward with applications for which they or their clients may be eligible," according to the lawsuit.
Such delay also "causes unnecessary emotional hardship for those left in legal limbo while they wait to obtain the records that hold the key to assessing their immigration options in the United States," the attorneys say.
"The statistics demonstrate that Customs and Border Protection is not prioritizing reducing its backlog of FOIA requests" and its effort to clear the backlog "has been wholly inadequate and ineffectual," according to the complaint.
The attorneys say there are "no exceptional circumstances" that warrant the delay in processing the FOIA requests.
They seek class certification, declaratory judgment that Customs and Border Protection is violating the Freedom of Information Act, and a nationwide injunction requiring a response to all backlogged FOIA requests within 60 days of a court order.
They are represented by Stacy Tolchin of Los Angeles.
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