Record Number of FOIA Requests to DHS Causes Backlog

It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) receives the most Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests of any government agency, having received a record 291,242 FOIA requests during fiscal year 2014. This record number of FOIA requests, mostly for immigration related documents and other information, has resulted in a substantial backlog in addressing these requests.

About the FOIA

The Freedom of Information Act is a law that provides citizens the right to access and obtain information and documents from the federal government. FOIA allows individuals to access information that may not be available on agencies websites or in their FOIA libraries. The FOIA can be used to request information on immigration records to check case history and is often used by lawyers and stakeholders to access unpublished policies, procedures, decisions, and communications. Classified records and information such as national security, business proprietary, personal privacy, and investigation cannot be released.

FOIA Requests to DHS

The DHS encompasses three main immigration agencies, including US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is why it receives such a large amount of FOIA requests. This means that FOIA requests sent to DHS include those sent to USCIS, CBP, and ICE.

Typically, federal departments and agencies must respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days, as required by law. While DHS has been able to comply with this regulation for the most part, its 182% increase in FOIA requests received since 2004 when President Obama took office has caused a backlog of approximately 100,000 FOIA requests. In few cases, applicants have filed lawsuits demanding a response to their delayed requests.

FOIA Requests FY 2014 Report

At the end of fiscal year 2014, DHS received:

  • 96,196 backlogged requests
  • 53 backlogged appeals

Backlogged Requests and Appeals at the End of FY 2014

AgencyImmigration AgencyNumber of Backlogged RequestsNumber of Backlogged Appeals
Total 9619653

In fiscal year 2014, DHS

  • Received 59434 requests pending as of start of the year
  • Received 276136 requests
  • Processed 226400 requests
  • Received 109170 requests pending as of end of the year

FOIA Requests Received, Processed and Pending

AgencyImmigration AgencyNumber of Requests Pending as of Start of the YearNumber of Requests Received in the FYNumber of Requests Processed in FYNumber of Request Pending as of End of the Year
Total 59434276136226400109170

This backlog is expected to continue in the future, so applicants must be patient. If a response to your FOIA request is required urgently, an expedite request can be made. Applicants can contact an agency’s FOIA Public Liaison to resolve delays.