(CN) - A federal judge scolded the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for refusing to release records detailing how DHS interferes with non-citizens' rights to legal representation to the American Immigration Council.
"After sitting on a fairly standard Freedom of Information Act request by plaintiff American Immigration Council for almost a year, defendant U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (a component of the Department of Homeland Security, the other defendant) produced a response riddled with errors," stated U.S. District Judge James Boasberg. "The affidavit meant to demonstrate the adequacy of USCIS's search for responsive records discloses almost nothing about the search itself."
The government watchdog sued DHS in 2011 after the federal agency released just two pages taken from department manuals.
"Reports from immigration lawyers across the country indicate that CBP imposes far-reaching limitations on access to counsel," the Immigration Council claimed in its complaint. "CBP officers have prevented attorneys from accompanying their clients during inspections, limited the scope of representation, refused to accept supporting documentation proffered by attorneys, and actively dissuaded noncitizens from hiring attorneys."
The council's FOIA request sought records on attorneys' ability to be present during their clients' interactions with CBP, on what role attorneys may play during their clients' interactions with CBP, on attorney conduct during interactions with CBP on behalf of their clients, and attorney appearances at CBP offices or other facilities.
Judge Boasberg ruled that the agency must submit a new affidavit to demonstrate the adequacy of its search, and it must release two-thirds of the records that it withheld.
The judge allowed the rest of the records to be withheld under FOIA exemptions that protect agencies from releasing internal memoranda and information relating to personal files.
"After in camera review, the court concludes that two-thirds of the withheld records contested by the Council should have been largely or wholly released," concluded Judge Boasberg. "FOIA cases count on agencies to do their jobs with reasonable diligence. USCIS must do better."
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