Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the State Department for all documents related to national interest travel exemptions from the Biden administration to federal employees and their families related to the COVID-19 pandemic (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State(No. 1:22-cv-00736)).
On January 25, 2021, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation prohibiting the entry of non-residents to America if they have been in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and the Republic of South Africa in the 14 days prior. The stated objective of this order was to “prevent further spread” of COVID-19. On April 30, 2021, President Biden extended this proclamation to cover those who had been in the Republic of India.
Although these directives would potentially cause Americans to be separated from loved ones abroad, federal employees could have potentially used their positions and connections to circumvent the travel bans by obtaining National Interest Exemptions (NIE).
Through this FOIA request, Judicial Watch hopes to obtain information and statistics regarding the total number of NIE requests made during the public health emergency from federal and non-federal employees, as well as the number of rejections and approvals of these requests.
The lawsuit was filed after the State Department failed to respond to a September 21, 2021, FOIA request seeking:
- All records of the number of applications, granted and denied, for a National Interest Exemption to any of the COVID-19 related travel restrictions implemented by the U.S. Government, including the restrictions announced, by President Biden on January 25, 2021 and April 30, 2021.
- All records depicting the number of applications, granted or denied, to a family member of an employee of any office of the U.S. Government.
- All records of communication between any official of the Department of State and any official of any other office of the U.S. Government regarding applications for exemptions made by family members.
- All records of policies related to the processing of applications for a National Interest Exemptions.
“COVID restrictions have been too often ignored by government officials, and Americans have a right to know if federal employees used their positions of power to see their families when others could not,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.