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FOIA: Access to refugee applicant records

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides applications for refugee status but provides limited information to applicants when issuing denials.  Applicants and their representatives thus regularly attempt to obtain additional information about negative decisions through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when contesting those decisions with the agency.

In June 2020, IRAP filed a lawsuit challenging USCIS’s policy of refusing to search the database it uses for refugee adjudications (called “WRAPS”) and claiming to have no records of refugee case files when responding to FOIA requests.  Consistent with this policy, USCIS failed to produce a single document when IRAP requested its client’s refugee case file.

On July 22, 2021, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted IRAP partial summary judgment.  Among other things, the Court rejected USCIS’s argument that another agency’s response to different FOIA request mooted the case, recognized IRAP’s policy-or-practice claim, and enjoined USCIS from withholding records by refusing to search WRAPS.

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