Church of Scientology R-1 (Religious Worker) Petitions

R. M. Seibert filed this request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the United States of America.
Tracking # COW2015000551
Status
Completed

Communications

From: R. M. Seibert

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

(1) Copies of all "Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker" (USCIS I-129) forms with related attachments filed since January 1, 2009 where the "Nonimmigrant Classification" specifies R-1 (religious worker) status and "Company or Organization Name" begins with Church of Scientology.

(2) A copy of the written notice stating the final determination for the I-129 petitions identified as responsive documents for this request.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Ms. R. M. Seibert

From: FOIA, USCIS

Please provide a phone number in the event a Case Processor needs to ask any questions about your request.

************
FOIA, USCIS
www.uscis.gov/foia<http://www.uscis.gov/foia>

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with Department of Homeland Security policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid “need-to-know” without prior approval from the originator. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the originator for disposition instructions.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

A letter stating the request for reduced or waived fees has been rejected.

From: R. M. Seibert

We received your letter stating that the fee waiver had been rejected. Please provide clarification as to our fee category.

From: McClay, Brian D

Ms. Seibert,

In response to your email. You have failed to provide sufficient justification of how the requested information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding. Additionally, your request has been placed in the commercial use fee category based on the fact that your organization (MuckRock) charges a monetary fee to file FOIA requests. Since you have not met the necessary requirements for a fee waiver, we have denied your fee waiver request.

Sincerely,

Brian McClay
Government Information Specialist
National Records Center
FOIA/PA Division
Significant Interest Group
P.O. Box 648010
Lees Summit, MO 64064-8010
Email: Brian.D.McClay@USCIS.DHS.gov<mailto:Brian.D.McClay@USCIS.DHS.gov>

From: R. M. Seibert

To Whom It May Concern:

This is an appeal for FOIA Request Control No. COW2015000551.

I wish to appeal the rejection of my request for a fee waiver in your letter dated 24-Jun-2015. I also wish to appeal being classified as a commercial requester as stated in your follow-up response on 30-Jun-2015 to my inquiry as to which fee category I was assigned.

Your rejection letter stated that I failed to elaborate on how my request is in the public interest. I accept this reasoning for your initial rejection and apologize for the oversight in my submission. However, I feel your adverse determination of my request for a fee waiver should be reversed. Accordingly, I hereby assert my right under 6 C.F.R. § 5.11(b)(1) to submit further clarification as to the intended use of the disclosure I am seeking.

I am an independent researcher investigating the history of how the Church of Scientology weaponized the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the 1970s through the 1990s to attack the government over an alleged conspiracy against their organization. I use the services provided by MuckRock News for the generation of correspondence, progress tracking and digital reproduction of the information I gather from the large number of FOIA requests filed with various agencies in pursuit of my research. The purpose of my project is strictly for developing a better understanding of how the government works after dealing with an aggressive requester and vexatious litigant. The outcome of my research will be to produce a series of web-based essays using primary sources obtained by my FOIA requests. This final work product will be released with the aim of educating the public on the litigious efforts against the federal government and the advantages the organization I am investigating received as a direct result of those efforts.

Pursuant to those goals, the documents I am requesting are directly relevant in regards to the Church of Scientology’s long history of FOIA lawsuits against the government that included the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in addition to other challenges they raised on past R-1 visa issues. See:

• Church of Scientology v. INS, docket no. 2:92cv1029, filed in California Central District Court 2/18/1992 on a FOIA cause of action.

• Author Services Inc v. INS, docket no. 2:90cv2187, filed in California Central District Court 5/1/1990 on a FOIA cause of action.

• Additional primary source documents on controversial Scientology-related R-1 Visa issues that I have collected via data mining in the public domain and archived at: http://bit.ly/1IvOd3Y

I have filed over 50 FOIA requests in furtherance of my research (see http://bit.ly/1IRjkmp ). This level of investigation by a private citizen would not be feasible without the services MuckRock provides for generating, submitting and tracking record requests. While I do pay a fee for these services, the transaction is solely based on services rendered in support of filing the initial request letter and managing related correspondence. By the time your agency fulfills my request; the financial gain you imply MuckRock benefits from commercially has already been expended and is not impacted by the disclosure.

As such, there are no additional financial gains awarded to MuckRock News after my request is satisfied. They merely function as a provider of services enabling my research. Once responsive documents for any given request is received, MuckRock’s digital reproduction service provides the means for publishing those releases in the public domain where they can be openly shared with other researchers and members of the media in an non-subscription environment that is free of advertising. Thus, there will be no commercial, trade, or profit interest gained on the actual documents released through this FOIA request in accordance with 6 C.F.R. § 5.11(b)(1).

Additionally, I have no personal commercial interest in these documents whatsoever, as my only intent is to gather, release, and discuss subject matter in the public interest for further research and newsgathering purposes. I am using the public domain publishing service at Muckrock.com because it furthers my stated intent. MuckRock News is strictly a non-commercial service when used in this capacity by a non-employee with the sole intent to expand the public’s knowledge on the FOIA-related issues I am pursuing as an independent researcher.

Furthermore, MuckRock's mission statement (seen here https://www.muckrock.com/about/ ) makes it abundantly clear that it is a newsgathering entity, not a commercial entity. As stated therein:

“MuckRock's unique form of investigative and accountability journalism has been recognized by the Sunlight Foundation, The Freedom of the Press Foundation, and hundreds of local and national news outlets for its groundbreaking work in areas such as government spending, surveillance, and public safety.

“In addition, MuckRock works with journalists to help conceive, pursue, and publish original stories on issues that matter with exclusive primary materials obtained via public records law.”

In support of the above arguments, I respectfully submit that all other federal agencies I have filed FOIA requests with have consistently classified my ongoing research efforts in the non-commercial fee categories for “educational usage” or “all other requesters” because my stated purpose serves the public interest. I feel the same determination should be made in relation to my request with your agency because it similarly serves the public interest in the following ways:

(A) The public interest aspect of these documents has already been acknowledged by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in regards to my stated intent of developing a better understanding of how the government works when confronted with an aggressive requester and vexatious litigant. In January 1994 and January 1995, the DOJ published FOIA Update journal articles listing significant lawsuits that included the following synopsis:

“Church of Scientology Int'l v. INS, No. 92-1029 (C.D. Cal.), in which the Office of the General Counsel of INS determined that it could make a discretionary disclosure of all records at issue, records which had been withheld under both the deliberative process privilege and the attorney work-product privilege of Exemption 5. As a result, the case was dismissed.”

Publication of the outcome of this immigration-related FOIA case was significant enough to public interest that the DOJ deemed it worthy of repetitive dissemination that is still readily available for historical case citations even though the court left the decision unpublished in the Federal Register. See:

FOIA Update: Litigation Review Yields Greater Disclosure (Vol. XV, No. 4, 1994)
http://1.usa.gov/1dA6Gj0

FOIA Update: Significant New Decisions (Vol. XVI, No. 2, 1995)
http://1.usa.gov/1JBSS30

(B) The public interest aspect of these documents has also been acknowledged by the Church of Scientology and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as part of their closing agreement, which agreement was predicated on, in large part, litigation brought by individual Scientologists to compel production of documents similar in nature to the ones sought here. As stated therein:

“WHEREAS, the Church signatories and individual Scientologists have initiated, supported and/or otherwise participated in litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to compel the Service to disclose information withheld by the Service in response to FOIA requests about its treatment of Scientologists and Churches of Scientology (hereinafter ‘FOIA litigation’);”

If the documents sought there (and here) held no interest to the general public, there would be no basis for the IRS to settle with the Church of Scientology on the grounds of FOIA litigation.

(C) The secret nature of that IRS agreement, later published in the Wall Street Journal in 1997 on December 30 (seen here http://bit.ly/1DZl8ca ), compounds the public interest component for all Scientology-related FOIA requests. The conditions by which a government agency and a religious organization settle a long-running dispute over FOIA requests made by the same religious entity with a twenty-five year history of filing dozens of vexatious FOIA lawsuits against numerous federal agencies (including the INS) speaks naturally and quite directly to the public interest. This was borne out in subsequent articles, television programs, and documentaries speaking to the topic of the IRS's particular treatment of the Church of Scientology.

(D) The specific documents I am seeking, R-1 religious worker visas for the Church of Scientology, are a direct result of the IRS agreement granting the organization tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The topic of Scientology's tax exemption and the benefits they gain from it is receiving intense public scrutiny and media coverage in the wake of the documentary "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" currently airing to over 114 million subscribers on HBO. See:

Forbes Magazine: http://onforb.es/1aWUIiT
Los Angeles Times: http://lat.ms/1I3zwSA
We The People White House Petition: http://1.usa.gov/1BEyaZv

In sum, (1) I have clarified that disclosure is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester and (2) I have clearly showed that my request, if met, would "contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government," for multiple reasons. Therefore, I have met the statutory requirements of 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii) for a fee waiver, and hereby appeal.

With confidence,

Ms. R. M. Seibert

From: Jaynes, Thomas A

Ms. Seibert,
Thank you very much for speaking with me on the telephone today regarding your FOIA request. Your original request asked for copies of all I-129 forms since 2009 with R-1 status with company name of Church of Scientology. As I indicated on the telephone your request would include more than 3,500 files. Depending on the size of the petitions this could be well over 40,000 pages of documents.

You indicated you would be willing to accept a list of I-129 receipt files if we could include the country of origin. I spoke with the office that pulls that data and this is possible. If you are willing to modify your original FOIA request from the actual forms to a listing of receipt files since January 1, 2009 related to R-1 status with Church of Scientology to include petitioners' country of origin, please respond and let me know. Once I hear back from you I will have the office start working on that list for you.

Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Enterprise Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee's Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
(Telework Mon and Fri)

SIG...fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

From: R. M. Seibert

Mr. Jaynes,

Thank you for your prompt follow-up on our telephone conversation.

Please accept this as confirmation that I am willing to modify my original FOIA request from the actual forms to a listing of receipt files since January 1, 2009 related to R-1 status with Church of Scientology that include petitioners' country of origin.

With gratitude,

Ms. R.M. Seibert

From: Jaynes, Thomas A

Thank you very much.

Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Enterprise Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
(Telework Mon and Fri)

SIG…fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

A letter stating that the request appeal has been succesful.

From: Jaynes, Thomas A

Ms. R.M. Seibert,
Please see the attached letter regarding your appeal of the original fee waiver denial. You should receive a copy in the mail soon.

T. Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Enterprise Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
(Telework Mon and Fri)

SIG…fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

From: R. M. Seibert

Mr. Jaynes:

Thank you kindly for expediting a copy of my Fee Appeal Grant letter via e-mail. This was a well received bit of good news, and I am extremely grateful for all of your ongoing assistance with processing my request.

Sincerely,

Ms. R. M. Seibert

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

A letter stating that the request appeal has been succesful.

From: Jaynes, Thomas A (Allen)

Your request is currently number 154 of 238 pending requests in Track Two. You can check the progress of your request using the link below.

Check Status of Request | USCIS<https://egov.uscis.gov/foiawebstatus/>

T. Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Enterprise Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
Telework Mon, Wed (episodic) and Fri

SIG…fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

An interim response, stating the request is being processed.

From: R. M. Seibert

Hello- Unfortunately, the CD included with your December 17 mailing was blank. Could you please re-send? Thank you.

From: Jaynes, Thomas A (Allen)

Ms. R. M. Seibert,
I apologize for the our office sending you a blank CD. I will have a new CD sent to you soon.

T. Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Enterprise Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
Telework Mon, Wed (episodic) and Fri

SIG…fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

A copy of documents responsive to the request.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

A cover letter granting the request and outlining any exempted materials, if any.

From: R. M. Seibert

Dear Mr. Jaynes,

I've successfully received the disclosure files on the second CD you sent me for FOIA reference number #COW2015000551. Thanks so much for your assistance with this request! I really appreciate it.

Sincerely,
Ms. R. M. Seibert

From: Jaynes, Thomas A (Allen)

You are very welcome.

T. Allen Jaynes
Government Information Specialist
FOIA/PA Significant Interest Group (SIG)
National Records Center
Immigration Records and Identity Services Directorate
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
150 Space Center Loop
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064

(816) 350-5500 Ext 5095
Telework Mon, Wed (episodic) and Fri

SIG…fulfilling the promise of openness

WARNING: This document is FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information and is not to be released to the public or other personnel who do not have a valid "need-to-know" without prior approval from the originator.

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