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U.S. Customs and Border Protection Freedom of Information Act Challenge Stands

A judge in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, has denied a motion filed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to dismiss the Meredith R. Brown, et al. v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, et al. lawsuit filed against the agency due to alleged unreasonable delays in the processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This means that the case continues and a judge will look at the merits of the complaint.

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows a person to obtain records (generally, regarding him/herself) that are held by U.S. federal agencies, subject to a number of specified exceptions when records need not be released. FOIA is a cornerstone tool in increasing governmental transparency and holding government agencies accountable for their actions.

FOIA Requests Filed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection

A person may seek a variety of records from CBP, including entry and exit records for travellers to the USA, reports concerning denied entry into the USA or expedited removal, and other similar matters. When a FOIA request is filed with CBP, the statutory deadline for a response is 20 days.

What is the lawsuit about?

The Brown v U.S. Customs and Border Protection was filed by a number of U.S. immigration attorneys and individual applicants who had all sought records from CBP by making a FOIA request and whose FOIA request had been pending beyond the statutory 20 days deadline for obtaining a response from CBP. In fact, according to the complaint, many FOIA requestors had waited for one year or more without response. The plaintiffs describe in their complaint "a longstanding and pervasive practice of unreasonable delay in CBP's response to FOIA requests".

United States District Judge James Donato denied CBP's motion to dismiss the lawsuit using some strong language to rebut CBP's claims, including that CBP's argument that a delay in responding is not a cognizable claim "flies in the face of FOIA's plain meaning and several cases finding that unexcused delay is a perfectly valid claim" and that arguments made regarding a prior court case are "tantamount to a willful misreading" of that holding. The case will continue before the US District Court, Northern District of California.