Saturday, June 4, 2011

FOIA Response from EOIR: Guidelines, Rules, E-mails for BIA Staff and Adjudicators

I recently received 354 pages of documents responsive to a FOIA request I submitted to the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) in 2010.

The documents consist largely of BIA style guidelines, rules for the constitution of BIA staff panels, and also topical memoranda and e-mail traffic, including on Haiti. Numerous pages are redacted and I will be filing an appeal requesting those as well.

These documents were produced in response to my request for the rules used to constitute the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) staff panels as well as the rules and other instructions for the BIA decisions themselves.

The documents in their entirety may be downloaded here.

In addition, I have uploaded the most recent EOIR release and a few other documents to, on a page with other FOIA documents. This page is part of a site I am now putting together in order to track FOIA replies as well as the government's responses to misconduct complaints, since it's too cumbersome to track these via a blog. My short presentation on watchdog functions and agencies within the government, for the June 2-5 Law and Society meetings in San Francisco, is the occasion for this soft launch.

Of special note are the investigations of immigration judge misconduct produced by the Office of Professional Responsibility after they refused the initial FOIA request, were instructed to release them following an appeal, and after Marlene Wahowiak stonewalled until she was contacted by staff at the Office of Governmental Services FOIA office, a new agency established for just this purpose. The correspondence leading to this release also is available.

I appreciate the EOIR's responsiveness, but I have numerous requests that have been pending with the agency for over a year. Also, note that the cover letter, in addition to being backdated by a year -- I was advised this was a clerical error -- does not include the date of my initial request. And the EOIR, as well as the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility, remains in the technical dark ages and is still sending hard copies of long documents, in violation, ironically, of the March, 2009 FOIA memorandum issued by Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. himself, that is, their boss, stating that they should use "'use modem technology to inform citizens what is known and done by their Government,'" quoting President Obama.

The DHS, for instance, allows one to submit FOIA requests online and sends out CDs for such matters, which is efficient for the government and also for the public. The EOIR still only responds to snail mail FOIA requests and issues their responses via paper. I believe the agency is aware of these limits and I also understand that in many cases its clientele, i.e., pro se respondents, would be at a disadvantage if the EOIR were to disseminate immigration court files digitally. However, this is a problem that could be solved by the EOIR providing options for the initial inquiries and then responding in kind.
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