Regional Center Business Journal Sneak Peek: “The Wild and Complicated World of FOIA”

04.10.18 | Archived

RCBJ

By: Ashley Sanislo Casey, IIUSA Associate Director of Advocacy

An underground library. A vault of over 23 million records spanning over 330,000 square feet , or about six football fields. Built into a cave to withstand natural and manmade disasters, this is the National Records Center (NRC) in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. A repository for federal agencies, the NRC stores files for use by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and houses all immigrant records for individuals currently in the immigration process and the documents that will continue to track them throughout their lives in the U.S. This is not a digital server facility holding virtual files, it is a physical storage facility of actual files that grow every year, stacked in seemingly endless rows and columns. In 2014 there were some 55 million records with each record growing by 1/16 of an inch every year, plus new records coming in daily. The National Record Center’s reasoning for not digitizing these records is that doing so would be far too expensive and labor intensive.

Since 2010, of behalf of our members, IIUSA has undertaken the task of submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to collect information on the EB-5 Regional Center Program from the U.S. government in order to better understand and inform the industry it represents. As the industry well knows, not much public information is available about the Program (that has not willingly been made available by Regional Centers) in order to protect the privacy and propriety of investors and businesses, so IIUSA relies on petitioning the government for the information which enables the organization to produce substantive and informative analytic data reports. It also uses this information to understand trends in the industry, collect project data that informs policy discussions and to help the association better serve its members by knowing and understanding all of the above as an aggregation of the conditions and progression of the EB-5 industry. IIUSA acts as the bridge between the public and private sectors, seeking information to inform and guide our industry.

Below is a chart that shows the history of IIUSA’s FOIA requests since 2010. In 2017, IIUSA submitted 44 requests, the most of any year yet, and already this year the organization has submitted 15 requests . As one can see, there are 42 requests “pending” currently, which means they were submitted to USCIS, but IIUSA is awaiting a response. 33 of those requests are from 2017, one is still pending from 2016. An additional 8 requests are in appeal, which means IIUSA received an insufficient response or a denial from USCIS and a formal appeal was made to argue for the release of the information we are seeking. While there are 125 “fulfilled” cases, that is, requests made that were successfully responded to, it does not reflect cases taken to the appeal level over the last seven years that were successfully fulfilled from this additional step.

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