I am pleased that I have won my first battle with the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
My step-grandfather was born in the same Russian region as my grandmother so it made me curious whether they had known each other before they separately immigrated to the USA. I thought the USCIS Genealogy Program would have his Alien File, the biggest gem in researching any immigrant, but staff couldn’t find his file for many months.
So, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. I naively put down genealogy as the reason for my request, a bad move. The FOIA office sent me a letter, stating my request should be sent to the genealogy program.
Then, I appealed the office’s denial by sending copies of the e-mail messages from the genealogy program that the file cannot be found in its database. I also sent a print out of a genealogy program webpage that reads files not available through that program could be acquired with a FOIA request.
My appeal also included a promise to not make any more FOIA requests for a while. Right now, I do not have two deceased relatives’ Alien Files. I can wait on those files.
So the lesson learned is not to put down genealogy as the reason for requesting Alien Files on this form.
My grandmother didn’t have children with her second husband but the information in the file will help me determine whether photos in my grandmother’s boxes are of a brother or her second husband. His file details his life in Russia, France, Germany and the USA, making it an interesting read.
In the three years of annoying the FOIA office of the USCIS, I have yet to pay anything for the Alien Files, nicely scanned onto CDs. The best things in genealogy are free even if I have to annoy Uncle Sam.