How to Get a Copy of Your Immigration Court Records

When fighting removal or deportation, seeing the contents of your court records thus far could be critical to winning your case.

By , Attorney · Pacific McGeorge School of Law

When applying for a U.S. immigration benefit or fighting against removal or deportation, seeing the contents of your court records thus far could be critical to winning your case. For instance, the U.S. government's files on you might show what happened in past court hearings or immigration judges' decisions that you might have lost or never received; all important pieces of your immigration history. The legal tool for seeing your government records is known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which comes from a federal law.

As for how to actually get those records, the U.S. government does not have a main office that processes all FOIA requests. Each department and agency responds to people requesting copies by delving into its own records. The U.S. Immigration Court, formally called the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), is an agency under the Department of Justice that decides whether someone can remain in the United States lawfully or must instead be deported. The EOIR holds all records of current deportation, removal and/or exclusion proceedings, including immigration judges' orders and decisions.

The EOIR also includes an appeals court—formally called the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.)—which can review the judge's decision in a case, and which also keeps written records.

If You Need Records From USCIS or Other Federal Agencies, Those Require Different FOIA Requests

In this article, we're talking only about immigration files kept by the immigration court, for people in removal proceedings. These files won't necessarily contain paperwork from all your dealings with the U.S. immigration system, however. See How to Get a Copy of Your Immigration File (FOIA Requests) for details.

Making a FOIA Request to the EOIR

You can make a FOIA request only in writing, either online at the EOIR's Public Access link (which you'll need to register to use) or by letter.

If you decide to send a letter, it should include the language "Freedom of Information Act Request" in the opener. In the body of the letter, include your full legal name, alias (if any), maiden name (if any), date of birth, alien registration number ("A#," if known), the location of immigration hearings you attended or were scheduled for, and a description of the records you would like copies of.

The description can ask for specific documents, like "Order of Deportation In Absentia" or "Notice to Appear." If you are unsure what specific documents you need, you can ask for the entire file.

Along with your request, you must prove your identity. To do so, either take your unsigned letter to a notary public, who will check your identification documents and stamp it for a small fee (usually around $15) or you can submit an original signed Form EOIR-59, Certification and Release of Records.

(Note that other agencies such as USCIS use Form G-639 for FOIAs. The EOIR does not accept this form.)

The physical mailing address is:

Office of the General Counsel
Attn: FOIA Service Center
Executive Office for Immigration Review
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2150
Falls Church, VA 22041

Making a Record of Proceedings Request to EOIR

The immigration court actually provides an alternative way to get your records, called a "Record of Proceedings" or ROP request. This allows parties to the proceedings to ask for their official court file, which will contain all documents that the Department of Homeland Security and foreign national have submitted, including correspondence to and from the immigration court. It is likely to overlap a good bit with what you'd get with a FOIA request, but it also has the potential to be faster. See the EOIR's Request a Record of Proceeding (ROP) page for details.

Is There a Fee to Submit a FOIA Request to the EOIR?

There is no initial fee request to submit a FOIA request. If fulfilling your request leads EOIR to exceed two hours of research or 100 pages of duplication, it might ask you to $25; or more, with advance notice.

What Happens After Submitting FOIA Request to EOIR?

When the Immigration Court receives your FOIA request, it will send you a letter acknowledging the request and assigning it a tracking number. By law, federal agencies are expected to give some sort of response within 20 days, but the turnaround to actually produce documents could be longer.

Conducting a Personal Review of Your Immigration Court Records

If you are currently in removal/deportation proceedings, you can also request to review your Immigration Court file in person, at the Immigration Court where your case is being heard. Each Immigration Court has its own policies to review your file, so best practice is to contact the court clerk and get instructions.

Ordinarily, one makes a request in writing and the court clerk schedules a time to come to the Immigration Court in person. Note that the Immigration Court will not allow someone else to review your file on your behalf unless that person is your attorney of record or authorized representative.

Plan to bring paper to take notes, as you will not be allowed to take original documents from the file.

See a complete list of Immigration Courts.

Getting Legal Help

If you're in deportation proceedings, your odds of defending yourself and perhaps even attaining lawful status in the United States will be much better with the assistance of a licensed, experienced immigration attorney. The attorney can not only advise you on the FOIA process, but interpret the results and develop a strategy for follow-up.

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