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WASHINGTON — A University of Texas School of Law clinical law professor is asking a federal court to order federal officials to comply with a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request for documents that would show the full impact of the controversial 700-mile fence being built along the Texas-Mexico border. Professor Denise Gilman, represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group, filed a FOIA request last April for records showing where the fence would be built, including maps, surveys and appraisals of affected properties. She also sought information about the criteria for deciding where segments of the wall would be built and agency assessments of the impact of the wall on surrounding communities. FOIA requires federal agencies to respond to initial requests within 20 days. But Gilman, a member of the University of Texas Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall, contends in a lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have not complied. Her lawsuit states that despite initial indications that the agencies possessed volumes of records responsive to Gilman’s request, the Corps of Engineers denied part of her request outright and released only a few documents with substantial redactions. DHS referred her entire request to CBP, which released two redacted documents in December. On Jan. 30, CBP told Gilman that it was still processing her request. The Working Group on Human Rights and the Border Wall was formed to study and investigate the impact of the wall on property owners, indigenous communities and the environment. Preliminary information, according to the group, showed significant differences in the income and race of property owners whose land will be affected and those whose land will not. For example, news outlets have reported that the wall will skip a wealthy country club on the border while having a devastating impact on some poorer neighborhoods and Native American communities. “The refusal to respond to Professor Gilman’s requests in a timely manner and each agency’s referral to another agency for a response constitute blatant disregards for the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act,” said Margaret Kwoka, the Public Citizen attorney representing Gilman. “These agencies should not be allowed to move forward with a project of such a scale and impact without being accountable to the public.” The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asks the court to order the agencies to make the requested records available to Gilman. The suit also challenges the redactions taken in some key documents, including information about property ownership in affected areas. Gilman v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, No. 1:09-CV-00468 (D.D.C.).

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