Improving Transparency in the US Immigration System

Advocates of immigrants in the U.S. are arguing that there needs to be more transparency in the country’s immigration system. The current system offers limited transparency that doesn’t enable everyone to access crucial information when they need it.

The Importance of Transparency in Immigration

Today, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows any individual to access any type of non-exempt record from the federal government. This act is vital for maintaining government accountability, but it’s currently imperfect and doesn’t offer the highest level of transparency needed in immigration processes.

Immigration agencies, including immigration enforcement agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have impacted immigrants and their families in many ways. However, the extent of their operations is still unclear because of the limited access to these agencies’ records. 

The insufficient transparency has also allowed for the extent of certain changes under the Trump administration to remain opaque. Under the previous administration, attacks on the asylum system and the deconstruction of immigration courts took place, both of which were veiled in secrecy. 

Violating the FOIA When Attempting to Access Information

The secrecy of immigration agencies doesn’t fall under the responsibility of any presidential administration. Instead, it is the result of agencies’ repeated violations of the FOIA.

Specifically, agencies have arguably violated the FOIA by failing to respond in a timely manner to requests for records. This has, in turn, resulted in violations of individuals’ rights under the act, oftentimes leading these individuals to turn to the federal court system to avoid deportation.

A growing number of agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are seeing legal repercussions because of their FOIA violations. They’re also failing to provide information that should be readily available to the public under the FOIA, in some cases even destroying certain records.

How Transparency Could Be Improved

There are several ways in which officials could improve the transparency of immigration agencies and compliance with the FOIA. 

One step could entail developing a system that allows for first-person requests, which would enable immigrants to access personal records pertaining to them without the need to go through the FOIA process. Additionally, resources should be available to help agencies meet certain obligations under the FOIA, such as government funds that could support various FOIA programs.

Taking these and other steps would help make sure that agencies remain more transparent and provide additional protections for immigrants.