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Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Frequently Asked Questions

If your question is not answered here, then please contact us at (202) 325-0150 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday. Please keep in mind that we cannot provide you with any information that is not available to you online.

What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal statute. FOIA generally provides that any person has a right to request access to federal agency records. FOIA also establishes a presumption that records in the possession of agencies and departments of the Executive Branch of the U. S. government are accessible to the people, except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.

What is a FOIA request?

A FOIA request is a written request received by a U.S. federal agency from any individual or entity requesting records including databases held or believed to be held by an agency. Letters, electronic, and faxes are all considered to be written requests.

Who can submit a FOIA request?

Anyone! U.S. citizens (and non-U.S. citizens), corporations, associations, public interest groups, private individuals, universities, and local, state or foreign governments can all submit FOIA requests.

What are agency records?

A record is any CBP document, writing, photograph, sound or magnetic recording, drawing, computerized record (disks, database), electronic mail, CBP policy and decision or anything in which information can be retrieved and/or copied.

What records can CBP provide under FOIA?

Some records may not be available through the CBP FOIA Office. To find out what records CBP can provide under FOIA please visit the FOIA page to view a list of common FOIA requests and the agency/program office that can respond to the requests.

How much does it cost to make a FOIA request?

There is no fee to file a FOIA request.  FOIA established four fee categories that agencies use to determine if fees will be charged:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, reviewing the records, and photocopying them;
  2. New media, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions are charged for photocopying, after the first 100 pages;
  3. All other requesters (requestors who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours. 

In the event that fees are incurred beyond what you are entitled to for free, please indicate a specific amount that you are willing to pay.  If you do not indicate another amount in FOIAonline, please be advised that some agency regulations provide that making a FOIA request represents an agreement to pay fees up to $25.

How do I submit a FOIA request?

You can submit a FOIA Request using the FOIAonline Request Form.  Provide a clear and detailed description of the record(s) being requested. This information will help expedite the search process. Please include dates, times, officer names if available, certificate numbers, type of document, entry numbers, etc. The more detail you can provide, the better chances you will receive the information you are looking for. Note: Travel Records only go back to 1982. FOIA does not require agencies to answer questions. Questions posed as FOIA requests will not be processed.

If requesting information about yourself, please include as much information as possible to assist us in locating the record(s) you are seeking, to include your Date of Birth, Alien number (A number), your parents’ names, and any alias’ you may have used at the time of entry or apprehension.

If you are an attorney or a third party requesting information on behalf of someone else (other than your own minor child) you must attach a written consent from the subject of record. It is recommended that you use Form G-28, or you may submit a written notarized consent.

What information do I need to provide on a FOIA request?

Records must be described in reasonably sufficient detail to enable government employees who are familiar with the subject area to locate records without placing an unreasonable burden upon the agency.  For this reason, §5.3(b) of the DHS regulations, 6 C.F.R. Part 5, require that you describe the records you are seeking with as much information as possible to ensure that our search can locate them with a reasonable amount of effort.

Can I request a FOIA on behalf of someone else?

DHS regulations require, in the case of third party information requests, a statement from the individual verifying his or her identity and certifying that individual's agreement that records concerning him or her may be accessed, analyzed and released to a third party.

How do I submit a FOIA appeal?

Under FOIA, you have the right to file an administrative appeal for a denial of records and no records response received from CBP.  If you are not satisfied with the results of the release, you have a right to appeal our withholding determination.  You may file an appeal using the FOIAonline Request Form. You may also send your appeal within 90 days of the date of your final response letter to: 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
FOIA Appeals, Policy and Litigation Branch
90 K Street
NE, Washington, D.C. 20229

How do I check the status of a FOIA Appeal?

You may check the status of a FOIA appeal on the FOIAonline website under Search FOIA Requests.

Last modified: 
Monday, March 30, 2020 - 10:00