In January 2021, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm Ropes & Gray LLP, filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s practice of denying access to records that may aid an immigrant’s defense in immigration cases. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), as well as local immigration attorneys and the law firms of Demissie & Church, Araujo & Fisher, LLC, and Graves & Doyle Attorneys at Law.
As detailed in the complaint, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systematically withholds records that may help immigrants who are facing detention, deportation, or another adverse immigration action. This practice substantially hinders the just administration of the immigration system, violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and hamstrings attorneys’ ability to represent clients.
Although DHS insists that any legal obligation to disclose records is satisfied because noncitizens and their counsel can file requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the FOIA is not designed to provide necessary disclosures in immigration proceedings. FOIA responses have frequently taken so long that immigration matters end—and people are deported—before these responses arrive. And FOIA responses may omit records that are relevant to a noncitizen’s case.
In this system, immigration attorneys are forced to devote much of their time to tracking down records, and must routinely make the best of incomplete information. They must prepare their clients for court hearings in which they may be ambushed by government attorneys with access to records that are never disclosed or shared.
The federal government’s policy operates against a backdrop of increased immigration enforcement, a swell of immigration court caseloads, and a suite of policies designed to move immigrant court dockets—particularly the cases of detained people—at breakneck pace. The case follows other ACLU litigation challenging the fairness of immigration bond hearings in New England.
The plaintiffs seek relief under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).