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Settlement Requires USCIS to Provide Asylum Officer Interview Notes in FOIA Response

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 13120545 (posted Dec. 5, 2013)"

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and co-counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP has reached a settlement, signed by the presiding judge, in Martins v. USCIS, which challenged the agency’s withholding of asylum officer interview notes, taken by asylum officers to document the content of the interviews of asylum applicants. The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, challenged the withholding of the notes under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the cases of ten individual clients represented by the plaintiff, immigration attorney Jeffrey Martins, and also challenged the agency’s policy and practice of withholding the notes as a categorical matter. In July, the plaintiff won his motion for a preliminary injunction, and the government then produced the notes – without any redactions – for all ten of the asylum seekers whose notes were specifically at issue in the litigation.

The settlement brings an end to the underlying policy and practice that has affected asylum applicants and their legal representatives across the country. Under the settlement agreement, USCIS must instruct all officers, employees, and agents involved in the processing of FOIA requests that asylum officer interview notes – the records reflecting information, instructions, and questions asked by officers and responses given by applicants in asylum interviews – are not by their nature and status protected by the deliberative process privilege as a general matter and thus are to be produced under FOIA. This training must be completed within three months of the settlement agreement. USCIS must demonstrate its compliance to the court with the settlement after 3 months.

If you believe USCIS is not complying with the settlement agreement, or if you have other questions about the settlement or the case, please contact Robin Goldfaden at rgoldfaden@lccr.com.

Special thanks to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Thomas R. Burke and colleagues at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Jeffrey Martins.