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ICE’s FOIA Requests Piling Up

by foiaproj on April 29th, 2013

Syracuse, NY — At Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) there has been a rapid rise in the backlog of FOIA requests received that have been waiting unanswered for long periods of time. According to its annual FOIA report, ICE had only 50 pending requests at the end of FY 2011. However, this number had jumped to 2,903 at the end of FY 2012 after the agency was assigned the responsibility of processing some of the backlog of FOIA requests received by the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS). See Figure 1 and Table 1.

Figure 1. Rising Backlog as ICE FOIA Receipts Outstrip Closures

Rising Backlog as ICE FOIA Receipts Outstrip Closures

Table 1. ICE Processing of FOIA Requests
  Fiscal Year Change (%)
2011 2012 2013* 2013 vs. 2011 2013 vs. 2012
Receipts 16,502 24,073 33,290 102% 38%
Closed 16,488 21,220 23,068 40% 9%
Pending at end of fiscal year 50 2,903 10,222 20,344% 252%
* Fiscal year estimate based upon six months of FY 2013 case-by-case agency data covering October 2012 – March 2013 compiled by TRAC.

The situation has significantly worsened during the current fiscal year, according to the latest available agency records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University for FOIAproject.org. As of the halfway point in fiscal year 2013 (between October 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013), ICE had recorded receiving 16,645 requests, of which it had closed only 11,534. If the same pace were to continue for the rest of FY 2013, receipts would be twice the level they were two years ago, and 38 percent higher than last year’s record-high numbers. Four out of five (81%) of ICE’s FOIA receipts thus far in FY 2013 have been referrals from CIS.

So far in FY 2013, ICE is closing FOIA cases at a pace 9 percent higher than the year before. However, unless steps are taken to increase staffing levels in ICE’s FOIA office or reduce the number of CIS referrals ICE is being asked to process, ICE’s backlog of cases is projected to grow to over 13,125 by the end of September when the fiscal year ends. This is three and a half times higher than the agency’s record-high backlog at the end of FY 2012.

With the public debate over immigration reform in full swing, there is a continuing need for access to information about what ICE has been doing to enforce immigration laws. But the backlog is projected to be so large that even if ICE completely stopped receiving any new requests it would take more than six months to answer those it already had. Since ICE is legally obligated to accept new requests, the future looks grim for FOIA requestors. The outlook is equally bleak for ICE’s FOIA office staff, who have to cope both with an incredible workload and unhappy FOIA requestors waiting for the records they need.

April data analyzed by TRAC suggest that older cases are largely being forgotten, perhaps buried under the pile of newly arriving requests. As a result, there has been a substantial jump in ICE’s backlog of unanswered requests that have been waiting more than 60 and 90 days. In just last four weeks, the number of these FOIA requests waiting to be answered more than 60 days has risen by 26.8 percent. Those waiting longer than 90 days have doubled, reaching 2,629 cases. ICE’s oldest pending request now has already been pending without response for 640 days. See Table 2.

Table 2. ICE FOIA Requests Pending at End of April vs. March 2013
March 2013 April 2013 Change
Number pending 8,251 8,245 -0.1%
Number waiting > 30 days 6,357 6,169 -3.0%
Number waiting > 60 days 3,631 4,603 26.8%
Number waiting > 90 days 1,297 2,629 102.7%
Average days waiting 71 87 22.5%
Median days waiting 64 82 28.1%
Maximum wait 612 640 4.6%
Note: “days” are the number of calendar days since ICE recorded having received a request.

From → DHS, FOIA, ICE, Immigration, Reports

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