EOIR's Knee-Jerk Redaction?

In an action reflecting on the agency’s transparency, EOIR responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by Long Island, NY attorney Bryan Johnson for the remanded decisions of Charlotte Immigration Judge Barry Pettinato by redacting pretty much everything from all of the decisions, including sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the names and citations of published BIA precedent decisions that were referenced in the Board’s judgments.  For example, one such redacted BIA decision provided pursuant to the FOIA request now reads that the appeal was from the IJ’s decision denying the respondent’s “applications for [BLANK] pursuant to section [BLANK] of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Act”); [BLANK], for [BLANK] pursuant to section [BLANK] of the Act, [BLANK], and for [BLANK] pursuant to [BLANK].” A later section of the same redacted decision now reads: “During the pendency of this appeal, the Board issued [BLANK][BLANK] (BIA 2014) and [BLANK] [BLANK] (BIA 2014, which clarifies the elements required to establish [BLANK] under the Act.”  Here is the link to all 58 redacted decisions: https://amjolaw.com/2018/05/24/doj-redacts-all-the-relevant-facts-and-law-in-all-58-remand-decisions-of-immigration-judge-barry-pettinato/.  

As names and all other identifying information were (correctly) redacted from each decision, it is unclear why EOIR saw the removal of virtually all information from the decisions to be necessary.  The BIA publishes precedent decisions in which it substitutes initials for the respondent’s name, but otherwise includes the facts and law relevant to the case. As attorney Johnson points out, “Almost all the cites to BIA and Circuit Court decisions are redacted under the (b)(6) exemption, which is supposed to protect private personal information. The title to a published BIA decision is about as far from personal information as it gets.”

Ironically, the redactions came two weeks after EOIR announced a new “transparency initiative”:  https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/executive-office-immigration-review-releases-court-statistics-announces-transparency.  According to the May 9 announcement, posted on EOIR’s website, “Releasing immigration court data to the American public introduces accountability to a system that has been neglected for years,” said EOIR Director James McHenry.

Copyright 2018 Jeffrey S. Chase.  All rights reserved.

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