A Ropes & Gray litigation team working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit on Jan. 15 challenging the federal government’s ongoing practice of denying access to records that may aid an immigrant’s defense or application for benefits. The government’s practice substantially hinders the just administration of the immigration system, results in violations of federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and hamstrings attorneys’ ability to represent clients.
According to the lawsuit, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systemically withholds records that may help immigrants who are facing detention, deportation, or another adverse immigration action. DHS follows this nondisclosure policy regardless of whether the records are confidential, and even when the records would show a person’s eligibility for relief. DHS insists that any legal obligation to disclose records is satisfied because immigrants and their attorneys can file requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But FOIA responses often take so long that immigration matters end—and people are deported or denied benefits — before these responses arrive. Meanwhile, immigration attorneys are forced to work with incomplete information, whereas the government can ambush their clients with records it refuses to disclose.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Greater Boston Legal Services and local immigration law firms and attorneys.
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