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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Immigrant Wins Legal Fees in FOIA Action

(CN) - The U.S. government owes attorneys fees to a man who sued over improperly withheld immigration documents, federal judge ruled.

Misrad Hajro, a legal permanent U.S. resident, requested a copy of his alien registration file in 2007 after losing a bid for neutralization based on alleged evidence that he lied about his foreign military service.

According to his complaint, Hajro requested a review hearing with an immigration officer and filed his request under the Freedom of Information Act to prepare an appeal.

Hajro was joined in a lawsuit by his attorney, James Mayock, a plaintiff in a 1992 lawsuit challenging the Immigration and Naturalization Service's patterns of violating the FOIA. The suit ended in a settlement, but they said that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services still violates federal law.

The pair sought declaratory and injunctive relief under the FOIA and the Administrative Procedures Act, listing nine causes of action.

Mayock and Hajro also submitted declarations from 26 other immigration attorneys who said they experienced similar delays.

U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, Calif., said the lawsuit proved that the Immigration Service indeed has a "pattern or practice" of violating the FOIA, but dismissed claims against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Hajro's claims "arise out of defendants' practice of consistently violating the FOIA's time requirements," Grewal said in his ruling. "The delay in responding to this request was not an isolated event, such that defendant could point to bureaucratic inefficiency as the sole cause of his injury. Plaintiffs brought forward at least 26 other attorneys who have experienced similar delays in responses. Defendants failed to comply with its obligations under both the FOIA and the settlement agreement to ensure FOIA requesters with rights at risk were given high-priority status. Hajro was just one victim of that pattern or practice."

For Hajro, and others, it meant proceeding without the needed documents.

Grewal added that the agency's "inability" to produce the requested documents had more to do with a lack of "good faith" than "bureaucratic inefficiency," stating the evidence actually suggests "its actions teeter on the edge of obduracy."

Mayock and Hajro requested attorneys' fees of over $323,000, but Grewal awarded them $318,568 based on six of the nine claims as they relate to violations of the FOIA. He said, however, they were also eligible for attorneys' fees for claims seven through nine.

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