In late February 2017, the Trump Administration took some of its earliest steps towards implementing a new border wall policy with an executive order and several memos issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership. In response to the policy, MuckRock filed a FOIA request for “memos relating to executive orders signed by Donald Trump,” including but not limited to memos described in a specific article.
Just under 17 months later, DHS responded with a letter saying that they were unable to find any such memos. Despite these claims, two of the memos which DHS said they were unable to find had already been posted to their website.
The two memos posted to DHS’ website were both dated February 20th, 2017 and signed by John Kelly, the then-Secretary of Homeland Security and the current White House Chief of Staff. The two memos titled Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies and Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest, were not only discussed explicitly in the article referred to DHS, but linked to. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine confirms that the links were present in the article from the beginning, and not added later.
While DHS’ failure to provide copies of already publicly available memos may appear to be an amusing annoyance, their response to the FOIA request highlights the agency’s general failing with FOIA. There’s no reason to believe that these were the only two DHS memos relating to Trump’s executive orders, since no policy can be fully implemented by just two memos. The DHS’ failure to find copies of already public documents brings their search process into question for both this particular FOIA request as well as FOIA requests in general.
The DHS’ failure to find records posted to its website has been appealed. In the meantime, you can read the longer of the two memos embedded below, or on the request page.
Image via Defense.gov