Center for Immigration Studies v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES, Plaintiff, Case No. 1:22-cv-00117 (TNM) v. U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION This FOIA case presents a recurring problem: A broadly worded request that yields a mountain of responsive documents at the cost of herculean efforts from the target agency. The Center for Immigration Studies requested all emails from three high-ranking officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) over the course of about nine months. USCIS moves to dismiss the Complaint or for summary judgment, arguing that the burden from such capacious requests is too heavy to require a response. The Court agrees. Binding precedent in this circuit establishes that an agency need not respond to requests that entail an unduly burdensome effort of review, redaction, and production. The Center’s requests would require such an effort. Because the Court consults evidence beyond the Complaint to reach that decision, it will grant summary judgment in the agency’s favor. I. The Center is a Washington-based nonprofit that seeks to educate the public and policymakers “about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration” in the United States. Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 1 (Compl.). The Center’s education efforts often involve FOIA requests. See id. The public has fiercely debated immigration in recent years. Unsurprisingly in such an environment, immigration policy tends to fluctuate between presidential administrations. Indeed, President Biden moved swiftly to reverse or modify several of President Trump’s immigration initiatives and policies. See Am. Ctr. for Law and Just. v. DHS (ACLJ), 573 F. Supp. 3d 78, 80 (D.D.C. 2021) (noting these changes). Concerned about the speed and opacity of these policy changes, the Center submitted three FOIA requests to USCIS. See Compl. ¶¶ 5–9. These requests sought “[a]ll records sent or received electronically” since the beginning of the Biden Administration “to the present” by Felicia Carrillo, Amanda Baran, and Ashley Tabaddor. Id. These individuals are high-ranking staffers at USCIS: The chief of staff, chief of the Office of Policy and Strategy, and chief counsel respectively. See Decl. of Cynthia Munita ¶¶ 5–7, ECF No. 9-2 (Munita Decl.). The requests had no subject matter focus or other limitation. That worried USCIS which, hoping to narrow the search, asked the Center to clarify if it sought records pertaining to any subjects. See Munita Decl. at 8. 1 The Center responded that “the request [was] sufficiently focused,” and declined to limit it. Id. USCIS began locating emails in mid-October but quickly learned how many there were. For Carrillo alone, the agency located 937,608 pages of emails comprising 65 gigabytes of data. Munita Decl. ¶ 10. USCIS estimated that it needed one year to review that material. See id. at 11. “Due to the sheer size” of that file, USCIS sought again to work with the Center to narrow the request. Id. To trim the scope, the agency asked the Center to share the types of information 1 All page citations refer …

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