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Immigration Records, Part 4: Customs & Border Protection Records

An OGIS-sponsored forum on immigration records on May 23 brought FOIA professionals from agencies which maintain immigration records together with immigration attorneys and others interested in such records. The FOIA Ombudsman is spot-lighting each agency and the types of immigration records each holds.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency responsible for securing and facilitating trade and travel into the U.S. CBP enforces hundreds of federal regulations and laws, including immigration and drug laws. Two CBP offices routinely have contact with people who are not citizens or nationals (Legal Permanent Residents) of the U.S.—Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations—and are the most likely CBP offices to have immigration records.

U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 119th Fighter Wing, North Dakota Air National Guard, flying over the International Peace Gardens on the border of North Dakota and Canada (ARC Identifier 6686179)

Border Patrol has records pertaining to detention and expedited removal of people who are not citizens or nationals of the U.S. and who are apprehended while trying to get into the U.S. illegally.

The Office of Field Operations has records of arrivals into and departures from the U.S. by air, land or sea, dating back to 1982. Such records are useful for people who have lost their passports or I-94 forms, which document a traveler’s arrivals and departures. Requesters should know that records earlier than 1982 no longer exist.

Check out CBP’s FOIA website. There’s a terrific chart summarizing the types of records that are most often requested of CBP under FOIA. So if you’re looking for documents pertaining to your expedited removal by Border Patrol or at a port of entry, submit a FOIA request to CBP. But if you’re seeking medical records for treatment while in detention, your request should go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CBP’s FOIA website also provides tips on how to describe and submit a FOIA request to speed the search process.

When CBP receives a request for an Alien File, or A-File—which documents a person’s contact with the Federal government as he or she lives as an immigrant and/or strives to become a naturalized citizen—the agency will forward the request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). OGIS suggests saving time and submitting A-File requests directly to USCIS.

In the coming weeks, the FOIA Ombudsman will discuss immigration records at the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the State Department and our parent agency, the National Archives. Stay tuned! In the meantime, let us know what you think.