FLORIDA–The Executive Office for Immigration Review in Miami was ordered in mid-May to locate and release copies of any decisions by immigration judge Philip Montante which granted asylum to Haitians to a client of Miami immigration attorney Michael Ray.
The federal district court in Miami ordered the records turned over to Marguerite Belvy, whose request for asylum had been denied by Montante as had other such requests filed by Ray’s Haitian clients.
Ray filed the Freedom of Information Act request for Belvy in April 1994 seeking favorable decisions by Montante after John McLuskey, then an attorney for Montante, told the Daily Business Review of Miami that Montante had granted asylum to “numerous Haitians.”
Ray and his fellow immigration attorney Neil Kolner were “chronic troublemakers” for their attempts to avoid having their cases decided by Judge Montante, McLuskey told the Review. He said that intimations that Montante was prejudiced against Haitians were “complete, utter nonsense.”
But records made available to Ray in May showed that prior to Ray’s FOI Act request, the judge had granted only one asylum request by a Haitian in his more than four years hearing cases. The released records also showed that in 1994, after the Review article and Ray’s request, Montante had granted asylum to three more Haitians .
In ordering release of the records, the court ruled that the agency had not complied with the FOI Act by conducting a reasonable search for records. It rejected the agency’s argument that the information could not be retrieved through “presently available computerized search methods.”
The court said that even if the agency’s current system did not retrieve cases by the name of a judge, it could retrieve cases by nationality and read through them. The court noted that the agency had not even considered a manual search. (Belvy v. Department of Justice; Counsel: Michael Ray, Miami)
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