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How to Get Your Immigration History

Pyrus Law Nov. 13, 2012

Prior to filing any types of applications with immigration, it is always wise to know what risks you are putting yourself at. You want to know everything immigration is going to know. This is especially important for anyone with a criminal history or who has had a previous encounter with immigration (at the border for example). While you may not think anything was recorded, it is better to find out before you submit an application to immigration. For example, if you have been deported from the country (but you thought you were just turned away), filing an application with immigration could lead to imprisonment- that’s not good. So here’s some information on how to find out about your records.

Immigration History

If you encountered immigration during an attempted entry into the U.S., you should submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Customs and Border Patrol. The information that you will need to provide include: Name/Aliases, Date of birth/Dates of birth you may have used, Address, Consent (if a third party is submitting the request), Parental consent (if you are a minor), Sworn declaration under penalty of perjury or notarized affidavit of identity, Death Certificate, news article, or obituary (if you are requesting information in regards to a deceased person), and phone number (Include a daytime phone number at which you can be reached should there be any questions about your CBP FOIA request). This information should be sent to: CBPFOIA@DHS.gov; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, FOIA Division, 799 9th Street NW, Mint Annex, Washington, DC 20229-1181; or faxed to: (202) 325-0230. While Customs and Border Patrol offers an otion to submit FOIAs online, they require original signatures, so you will eventually have to mail them documents. However the benefit to submitting a request online is immediately receiving a case number and knowing that the request was received.

A FOIA request should be completed within one month in theory… but the government has a reputation for being overloaded and behind, so it might be a while.

More information on how to submit a Customs and Border Protection FOIA can be found here:


And the type of information you can request through a CBP FOIA, is detailed here: http://cbp.gov/xp/cgov/admin/fl/foia/foia_requests/describing_records.xml

So now you’re thinking, okay, I know where to go ask for this information, but what if I find out I’m barred from the U.S. and I just sent the government my home address. Are they going to come knock on my door? While there have been rumors that undocumented people have found themselves in removal proceedings following a FOIA request, this is known among immigration attorneys as an urban legend. No immigrtion attorney I have ever consulted with has any first hand knowledge of someone landing in removal proceedings as a result of a FOIA. That bieng said, if you are concerned about this, you can also hire an attorney (like me!) to submit this information on your behalf, and most attorneys will provide their own address in lieu of yours. The cost is minimal, and may provide you with some peace of mind.

Criminal History

In addition to requesting you file from CBP, it is also wise to complete an criminal background check. A criminal background check is a check of FBI records which will show all criminal history that is attached to your fingerprints. This is a good idea for people who may not remember if they were arrested for a certain incident or where, because it includes information from all agencies that are report to the FBI. Usually when you go to your local police department and ask for a background check, the local police can only give you your local record, meaning if you were arrested in another city, they would not have record of that. A LiveScan is a California background check, while a FBI background check should show any time you were fingerprinted in the United States. This should include when you attempted to cross the border and were turned around. It’s wise to complete a criminal background check prior to submitting applications to the government, because fingerprinting is almost always required for applications you may submit to Immigration. If the government is going to have the information, you want to have it first!

In order to obtain a background check, you need to 1) complete an application, 2) complete a fingerprint card ($19.95 at all UPS locations), and 3) submit the application, fingerprint card and $18 to the FBI. For the application and details on how to request a background check, visit the FBI’s website: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/background-checks/submitting-an-identification-record-request-to-the-fbi

The combination of the FOIA and the background check should be enough to find out what immigration-related information is on your record. If both your FOIA request and your background check come back clean then you’re fine! If not, then you should consult an attorney to weigh the risks of submitting applications given what is on your record.

Updated 12/16/12