Here’s a good example of why we take the time to file access to information requests on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and how this strategy sometimes encourages governments to disclose information on migration and border security policies that they would otherwise withhold from release.
One objective of our two-country FOI strategy was to obtain a complete copy of the U.S.-Mexico agreement on the “Cross Border Public Security Communications Network,” a document that establishes guidelines and procedures for communications between various U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies along the shared border.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) released a signed copy of the agreement back in April with significant parts redacted. Shortly thereafter we went back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ask for a copy of the same agreement while letting them know that the Mexican government had already released a redacted copy.
As it turns out, this was the first time the DHS FOIA case officer had ever heard of the Mexican access law. About a month later—a nanosecond in the world of FOIA—DHS released a complete copy of the agreement, including all of the parts redacted by SRE.
Did learning that the Mexican government had already produced a copy of the agreement awaken a slumbering sense of pro-transparency competitiveness among the DHS FOIA staff? Perhaps. For now we’ll take our DHS case officer’s words at face value: “See, at least we’re better than Mexico in our FOIA policy, right?”
Yes, DHS, sometimes you are.