Join Club

Statutes of Liberty: Freedom of Information Act Requests are Free for Immigrants and U.S. Citizens

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The best things in life are free. The best things in law are expensive, with one exception: Freedom of Information Act requests, which are free, free, free.

The Freedom of Information Act is, as readers surely know, a useful tool for journalists and ordinary citizens to obtain information about what our government does. But it is extremely useful and vastly underused in the immigration context. Submitting FOIA requests for immigration records is a simple process that helps immigrants and practitioners alike by giving us a look at someone’s entire immigration history.

FOIA requests are filed with USCIS’s National Records Center online or by mail on a simple form called the G-639. The form can be used to request specific documents, such as an old application or certificate of naturalization, or an individual’s entire immigration file. There is no charge unless the government sends a bill; in our experience, the government never, ever does.

The results of FOIA requests have given us some of our most exciting cases. We’ve found:

  • A client who thought they were waiting for an asylum decision had been granted asylum years ago. The approval notice had been lost in the mail.
  • A client who thought he was simply a green card holder had actually been a U.S. citizen for many years.
  • A client who did not know about youthful interactions with immigration officials discovered, with our help, that he had an old deportation order. (There are many ways to find out that unpleasant fact, but believe us: filing an FOIA request is the least painful by far.)

Any time you have questions about what happened in an immigration case or if you’ve lost your documents, file an FOIA!

Where’s that file? I know it’s around here somewhere…

FOIAs are also helpful for American citizens researching family history. You can submit a G-639 seeking the records of a deceased family member using an obituary or death certificate. For example, Doran wanted to learn more about her grandmother Lillian’s immigration history and submitted an FOIA request to USCIS with a copy of her grandmother’s obituary.

In the FOIA results, Doran received a copy of Lillian’s Argentine birth certificate, a copy of Lillian’s visa application and Lillian’s application for U.S. citizenship. Doran also learned that her grandmother did not legally change her name from Luisa to Lillian until Lillian became a U.S. citizen in 1956. All of this information was sitting in a government office waiting to be discovered and would have otherwise been unknown.

Analyzing FOIA results are some of our favorite things to do at our office. We’re happy to help our clients request their file and make recommendations about how to move their cases forward. We do an FOIA request at no extra charge whenever we think it is necessary as part of a consultation — information wants to be free, and we want to help you liberate it.

We’ve participated in the immigration FOIA review process at an even nerdier level — helping sue USCIS to try to compel the production of allegedly exempt material — but that’s a story for another day. For now, our message is: File an FOIA request! You’ll learn a lot, and your future lawyer will be deeply grateful.

As always, we welcome any thoughts or comments and will do our best to respond.

Recent Stories

In loving memory of Joseph Robert Kapacziewski, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 41.

In loving memory of James Stuart Edmonds, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 84.

A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.

Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 17124 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…

YULA’s ultimate frisbee spring season is now open for registration. We offer programs for middle and high schoolers – open to all players, whether they are new or have previous experience.Middle SchoolIn the Middle School league, mixed-gender teams practice once during the week and have games on Sunday afternoons. Spring league is a fun, safe, and positive environment. The season begins mid-March and wraps up with a tournament in early June. There are several options for practice days, so we can often work around schedule conflicts with other sports & activities.High SchoolThe High School program is organized by school of attendance and teams are classified by gender. New players will learn the basics in a supportive, welcoming environment. Experienced players will continue to develop their skills, and enjoy competition with other high school programs. The season concludes with a state level championship tournament in late May.All players are guided by experienced coaches who emphasize sportsmanship and good spirit. Ultimate is a fun sport with great camaraderie!YULA does not want finances to limit anyone from participating. Our middle school program offers a “Pay What You Can” cost structure and our our high school program is offering a $50 discount to new players.Visit our website to register and learn more. Sign up with a friend, but don’t delay, the season starts in March!

Submit your own Announcement here.

The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.

The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.

Former participants have this to say:

_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Valentine Pop-Up at George Mason University

Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village

Standup Comedy Showcase Starring Matt Ruby (Comedy Central)

Dead Horse Comedy Productions brings together top comedians from the DMV and beyond for a live standup comedy show!

Matt Ruby, Headliner

Matt Ruby is a comedian, writer, and filmmaker from New York City. His comedy has been filmed by


Subscribe to our mailing list