The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has agreed to pay New York immigration attorney John Assadi more than $47,000 to end a long struggle over a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Mr. Assadi in 2011. Although the agency claims no wrongdoing on its behalf, the court ordered payments strongly suggest improper delays and defective disclosures on the part of the agency.
Mr. Assadi requested documents related to communications at the agency regarding his firm between the USCIS fraud prevention unit and State Department consulates around the world. Initially, USCIS responded by identifying 23 pages of reports related to Mr. Assadi and his firm, but the agency refused to produce the documents and sought to shield them from FOIA disclosure. Mr. Assadi appealed and the agency stood by its decision.
Under the law, Mr. Assadi had the right to file suit in federal court seeking review of the denial and he did just that. Initially, federal magistrate Ronald L. Ellis ruled that USCIS correctly withheld the reports because they allegedly contained private information and interagency deliberations about possible fraud in specific immigration cases. Shortly before that ruling, USCIS revealed that there were additional documents – indeed, an additional 1,375 documents. The judge ordered USCIS to turn over those documents.
Subsequently, USCIS revealed an additional 1,000 documents, some of which the agency claimed to have found “unexpectedly” due to an alleged email search error. USCIS then moved for summary judgment, arguing that everything that should have been turned over was turned over. Although Judge Ellis ultimately sided with USCIS, the fact that the agency is paying attorneys fees to Mr. Assadi suggests that – at the very least, the agency had been dilatory in how it handled the requests.
Congratulations to Mr. Assadi. He received the documents he wanted after a bitter fight with the federal government. And now the government is paying him back for his efforts. A ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars for sure, but hopefully the agency will now take FOIA requests more seriously.