National Settlement Reached to Preclude the Government’s Categorical Withholding of Asylum Interview Notes

Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR /  415.543.9697 x216 /
(San Francisco, CA) – The Lawyers’ Committee of the San Francisco Bay Area, with co-counsel Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, has reached a nationwide settlement, signed by the presiding judge, in the matter of Martins v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services et al. The settlement ensures that the Government will no longer categorically deny applicants for asylum access to the asylum interview notes taken by the asylum officers who interview them. These notes are intended to document the content of the asylum interviews. Often the notes provide the only means of understanding what transpired during the interviews, which are key to the decision as to whether asylum is granted. Previously the notes were provided to the applicants when requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but then the Government changed course and began withholding them despite legal requirements that they be produced.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this year, challenged the withholding of the notes under FOIA in the cases of ten individual clients represented by the plaintiff, San Francisco immigration attorney Jeffrey Martins, and also challenged the agency’s policy and practice of withholding the notes as a categorical matter. In July, a federal judge granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction with regard to the
individual sets of notes. The government then produced the notes—without any redactions—for all ten of the asylum seekers whose notes were specifically at issue in the litigation.
The settlement now brings an end to the underlying policy and practice that has affected asylum applicants and their legal representatives across the country. Under the settlement agreement, linked here, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services must train all officers, employees, and agents involved in the processing of FOIA requests that asylum officer interview notes are not by their nature and status
protected by the deliberative process privilege as a general matter and thus are to be produced under FOIA. This training must be completed within three months. The agreement further requires USCIS to demonstrate its compliance with the settlement to the Court.
Speaking on behalf of the Lawyers’ Committee, Robin Goldfaden, a senior immigrants’ rights attorney said, “We are pleased that this litigation has produced a policy and training that will address the matter at the national level so that asylum seekers and their legal representatives will receive the notes documenting their interviews going forward.”
Thomas R. Burke, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, added, “This nationwide settlement ensures that these vital records will no longer be categorically withheld under FOIA, protecting the right of access to crucial data and information for asylum seekers and their legal representatives.”