(CN) - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a practice of withholding important documents from immigrants in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., found.
The decision focused on the agency's treatment of Misrad Hajro, a legal permanent resident of the United States who was denied naturalization based on alleged evidence that he lied about his foreign military service.
Hajro requested a review hearing with an immigration officer and filed a Freedom of Information request for his alien registration file so he could prepare an appeal of his denial.
Immigration attorney James Mayock filed suit alongside Hajro, claiming that Immigration Services routinely delays responding to his clients' FOIA requests.
In their complaint, Mayock and Hajro submitted declarations from 26 other immigration attorneys who experienced similar delays.
The immigration agency claimed that Mayock does not have standing to sue because he is an attorney who has made Freedom of Information Act requests for his clients.
U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal disagreed.
"The delay in FOIA response time prejudices Mayock's ability to effectively represent the interests of his client, just as it prejudices the client's ability to access potentially critical information for the immigration case," Grewal wrote.
Mayock had testified that the agency never responded within the 20-day limit to FOIA requests he made on behalf of clients, and it never voiced a need for more time.
Grewal found that the lawsuit proved that Immigration Services has a "pattern or practice" of violating the Freedom of Information Act, and that the defendants did not present any evidence to the contrary. Since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder does not represent Citizenship and Immigration Services, however, the judge dismissed any claims pertaining to him.
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