FOIA Backlog Due to Requests for Immigration Records

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to receive more requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) than any other government agency. In fact, during fiscal year 2014 (FY14), the DHS received a record number of requests – 291,242. The majority of FOIA requests are for immigration-related information and documents, creating a significant backlog and related difficulties in addressing them in a timely fashion.

Purpose of FOIA

In its simplest form, FOIA is a mechanism for obtaining certain government documents. A FOIA request can be used to obtain one’s own immigration records to verify case history and other information. FOIA is also used by lawyers and other stakeholders to access general internal documents, such as unpublished policies, procedures, decisions, and communications. More on the use of FOIA in the immigration context is available in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, FOIA Request can Help Resolve Some Immigration Cases (23.Sep.2011).

FOIA Requests to DHS Mostly Immigration Related

The primary reason the DHS receives so many FOIA requests is that it includes three primary immigration agencies. Specifically, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) all fall under the umbrella of the DHS. FOIA requests submitted to any of these agencies are all included in the DHS total.

DHS Not Always Able to Comply with Mandatory Response Time for FOIA Requests

By law, federal departments and agencies are generally required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days. The DHS has been complying with this 20-day requirement for most requests it receives. However, as the DHS notes, the department “…has experienced a 182 percent increase in the number of FOIA requests received” since President Obama took office in 2004. This has led to a backlog of some 100,000 FOIA requests within the DHS – a backlog that continues to grow. In some instances, these delays are resulting in lawsuits filed by applicants demanding responses to their respective FOIAs.


The DHS has been dedicating additional resources towards FOIA requests, but the ever-increasing number of requests the various components of the DHS are receiving means the backlog is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Patience is needed, and it may be necessary for applicants to overlook short delays, especially for FOIA requests that are not time-sensitive in nature. If a response is truly needed urgently, an expedite request may be made. Contacting an agency’s FOIA Public Liaison can help to resolve delays. Attorneys at the Murthy Law Firm are available to assist in submitting FOIA requests and addressing such delays.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.