Requests For Immigration Documents Are Causing a Huge Backlog at DHS

Brittany M. Hughes | March 20, 2017
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According to the Department of Homeland Security’s 2016 FOIA Report, released Monday, the agency is still dealing with a massive backlog of FOIA requests – many of them stemming from people and media outlets trying to get ahold of immigration information and documents.

Though largely a right exercised by the media, anyone can file a request for information or documents from the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act, or "FOIA." These requests can be fully granted, partially granted, denied, or terminated for a variety of other reasons, like voluntary withdrawal or improper submission.

According to the lengthy and detailed report, FOIA requests sent to the Department of Homeland Security made up nearly 40 percent of the total number of FOIA requests the federal government received in 2016. The department took in 325,549 requests last year, up 16 percent from the year before, the report noted.

A stunning 97 percent of these requests were sent to the agency’s immigration divisions, which includes Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS), DHS added.

For example, USCIS, the agency responsible for handing out visas and travel documents, headed into 2016 with a backlog of nearly 25,000 FOIA requests. They received another 166,732 last year alone, finally ending the year with more than 45,000 requests still pending.

Customs and Border Protection alone processed more than 73,000 FOIA requests last year, and still managed to end with a 6,000-request backlog.

Overall, DHS said they’re struggling through a backlog of nearly 65,000 FOIA requests, as of the end of September. They’ve even hired more full-time staff whose job is to do nothing but slog through piles of FOIA requests to keep up with the increasing demand for immigration documents and information.

But despite getting so many FOIA requests last year, DHS data shows the agency only fully granted about 5 percent of them (roughly 17,000 out of more than 310,000 total). The agency partially granted/partially denied another 186,054. Another 56,000 requests were for records the department said they didn’t have.

Broken down, USCIS only fully granted about 10,500 requests out of a total of145,000, amounting to a little more than 7 percent. Another 86,000 were partially granted.

Customs and Border Protection fully granted about 3,100 requests, about 4 percent of its 73,235 total. Nearly 30,000 were partially granted.