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Atty Says Agency Foot-Dragging Imperils Client

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - An immigration attorney says unexplained foot-dragging by federal staffers could result in his client's being wrongly deported despite his lawful permanent resident status.

In his Oct. 11 complaint attorney Michael Gahagan, of the Immigration Law Firm in New Orleans, says he represents a client who is facing deportation despite his being married to an American woman, having American children, and having followed all the rules to secure his permanent resident status.

The only problem is, now that his right to stay in the county has been challenged, he doesn't have the simply, one-page receipt of lawful residency to prove he belongs in the U.S.

Gahagan says he's asked the office U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services for a copy of the document time and again, and even filed a Freedom of Information Act to get it, only to come away empty-handed.

Finally, his client's deportation growing ever nearer, the attorney said he had no choice but to sue the agency for the one-page receipt.

Gahagan's says his Freedom of Information Act request for the receipt of immigration status was filed June 19, 2016.

In it, he's says, he made it clear his client was facing deportation if the receipt could not be obtained right away.

Gahagan told Courthouse News that the case is markedly similar to another case he has pending in the Fifth Circuit.

In both cases plaintiffs are foreigners who have been married to U.S. citizens a number of years and with whom they have several children who are also U.S. citizens.

"Normally you hand over the receipt showing status, and the judge will normally grant status," Gahagan said.

"This is a very routine case," he said.

Unfortunately, Gahagan said, it has also become routine for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to not simply mail the receipt showing status and for immigration attorneys to have to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get it.

Gahagan said he does not know why the agency doesn't just send the receipt showing status.

"They are either refusing or failing to do their job," he said.

Under federal law, once a Federal Information Act Request is filed, an agency has 20 working days to either produce the document in question or explain why the document is exempt from release.

"They never follow through" during the 20 working days, Gahagan said, of Immigration Services.

"I bet I've filed 500-600 requests, and they've never followed the law," Gahagan said.

He said he filed one request for a receipt of citizenship that took him two-and-a-half years to successfully obtain.

"I don't know if it's incompetence, or a purposeful thing, but it happens all the time," Gahagan said.

Gahagan's lawsuit notes that "USCIS has a long history of disobeying the Freedom of Information Act and refusing to lawfully respond to Plaintiff's FOIA requests when Plaintiff is requesting agency records required to represent his clients in immigration removal proceedings, thus forcing a federal lawsuit."

Gahagan says that in a previous case he brought to the federal court, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk called the agency's conduct "recalcitrant and obdurate" and said its refusal to produce documents merited an award of attorneys' fees.

And it wasn't the first time a judge reacted that way.

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