The Freedom of Information Act is a law that allows people to ask for and receive documents and data from the government. But when it comes to the immigration system, it can be hard to know just who to ask to find out the information you need.
Borderless Magazine put together this tip sheet to help journalists and community members navigate the FOIA system.
Thanks to the Little Village Solidarity Network and Organized Communities Against Deportation for contributing tips! And a very special thanks to Borderless Magazine board member and Chicago Headline Club FOIA Fest organizer Maria Ines Zamudio for many of these tips and this sheet’s organizing structure, which come from a 2018 training she did for the Ida B. Wells Society!
Which agency should I FOIA?
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security (repatriation and deportation data, disciplinary cases, private firm contracts)
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (deportation data, incarceration data, mortality rates, seizure data, investigations into cyber crimes and sex trafficking)
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (changes in policy, enforcement practices, citizenship data, DACA data)
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (arrest data, incident reports, violent assault data, corruption cases)
- U.S. Department of Labor (data on temporary workers and contracts)
- Office of National Drug Control Policy (drug seizure data, budget info)
- Treasury Department (seized assets, money laundering investigations)
- Local police department (local crime data, U-Visa applications, gang databases)
- Illinois Department of Human Services (number of refugee admissions to Illinois, funding for refugee services)
- Illinois Department of Corrections (data about detainees held in state prisons by immigration enforcement)
What can I get today without a FOIA?
- ICE FOIA Library (policies, MOUs, staffing charts and much more!)
- Syracuse’s TRAC (court trends, numbers of ICE detentions, etc)
- Executive Office For Immigration Review (data about asylum cases, court data)
- U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Hearings (annual testimonies in front of Congress of secretaries of HHS and DHS)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Refugee Resettlement (policies and statistics on the detention of migrant children in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program)
- USASpending.Gov (spending data)
- TAGGS (government spending on grants for Unaccompanied Alien Children program)
What information can’t I get?
- Names of people facing deportation or arrested in a particular raid
- Access to a case file for particular case (unless you get the immigrant to sign a privacy waiver form)