United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Catholic Charities submitted Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) requests to the Department of Homeland
Security (“DHS”) seeking documents concerning
asylum applications submitted by plaintiffs Kaps Kapende and
Annie Kaseka. Plaintiffs demand that the agency release, in
full, a three-page “Assessment to Refer”
memorandum concerning plaintiff Kapende and a four-page
“Assessment to Grant Asylum” memorandum
concerning plaintiff Kaseka, which the agency is partially
withholding pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5. Plaintiffs'
suit not only seeks the release of those documents, but also
an order “enjoin[ing] defendant from failing to
disclose entire Assessments in the future.” Compl.
[Dkt. # 1] at 19. Pending before the Court are the
parties' motions for summary judgment. For the reasons
that follow, the Court will deny plaintiffs' motion and
grant defendant's motion.
following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff Kapende was
born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Compl. ¶
93. After arriving to the United States he applied for asylum
and was interviewed by an asylum officer at the Arlington,
Virginia Asylum Office. Id. That asylum officer
drafted a document known as an “Assessment to Refer,
” which generally contains “facts, reasons,
citations to authorit[ies], and conclusions” for
denying an asylum application. Id. ¶¶
34-35. This document is not given to the applicant.
Id. ¶ 36. When an asylum officer denies an
application, the case is then referred to an immigration
judge for adjudication in removal proceedings. See 8
C.F.R. § 208.14(c)(1).
Kaseka was also born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Compl. ¶ 97. After arriving to the United States she
applied for asylum and was interviewed by an asylum officer
who granted her asylum. Id. The officer drafted a
document known as an “Assessment to Grant Asylum,
” which generally contains “facts, reasons,
citations to authorit[ies], and conclusions.”
Id. ¶ 32. This document is also not given to
the applicant. Id. ¶ 33.
about July 12, 2017, plaintiff Catholic Charities submitted a
FOIA request to the United States Citizenship and Immigration
Services (“USCIS”), a component of DHS, seeking
the following records concerning plaintiff Kapende:
• the notes of the asylum officer;
• the assessment written by the asylum officer;
• any material used by the asylum officer, but not given
to him by the individual named above
to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-9] (“Kapende FOIA Request”)
at 2. USCIS responded to the FOIA request on
December 31, 2017, and released to plaintiff Catholic
Charities 145 pages in their entirety, 26 pages in part, and
withheld 12 pages in full pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5.
Id. at 3. Catholic Charities appealed, and the
agency released an additional three pages in part, and one
page in full, including portions of the asylum officer's
Assessment to Refer which it initially withheld in full.
Id. at 4; Decl. of Jill A. Eggleston [Dkt. # 13-1]
(“Eggleston Decl.”) ¶ 5.
plaintiff Catholic Charities filed a FOIA request on or about
September 13, 2017, seeking the following documents
concerning plaintiff Kaseka:
• a copy of the notes of the asylum officer
• a copy of the assessment written by the Asylum
• a copy of the evidence relied upon by the Asylum
Officer, not supplied by the applicant;
• a copy of everything in her file
FOIA Request at 2. In response, the agency released to
plaintiff Catholic Charities 378 pages in their entirety, 25
pages in part, and it withheld 6 pages in full pursuant to
FOIA Exemption 5. Id. at 3; Eggleston Decl. ¶
6. Catholic Charities administratively appealed, and the
agency subsequently released an additional two pages in part,
including portions of the Assessment to Grant Asylum which it
initially withheld in full. Kaseka FOIA Request at 4;
Eggleston Decl. ¶ 6.
Kapende “wants to know why the asylum officer rejected
his application, ” because “he fears defendant
[DHS] will use the document against him” at his
upcoming immigration court hearing to deport him. Compl.
¶¶ 4, 8. Although plaintiff Kaseka was granted
asylum, she also “wants to know what the asylum officer
wrote about her.” Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff
Catholic Charities states that these records will be useful
in their advocacy efforts representing asylum seekers because
it will give the organization insights into “what
asylum officers are thinking[:] [w]hat is important to them;
what is not important; ...