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National Archives to preserve records of U.S. immigrants

June 3, 2009 | 11:14 am

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today that it planned to transfer tens of thousands of registration files of immigrants to the National Archives, creating a permanent and comprehensive record of their journey to the United States.

The archival processing of about 135,000 files -- which contain personal, historical and genealogical information -- could be completed by next summer and available for public access, officials said in a  statement.

“Immigration is one of the most significant aspects of the American experience,” said Gregory B. Smith, associate director of USCIS. The information contained in the so-called A-file is unique.

No other type of case file contains the same level of comprehensive personal data of immigrants and their request for resident status and citizenship, officials said. This ensures that the records contained within the A-file will be retained forever at the National Archives.

“These A-files are a key to unlocking the fascinating stories of millions of people who traveled to the United States in search of opportunity,” said Adrienne Thomas, acting archivist of the United States. “The National Archives is delighted that it will be able to safeguard the unique and important stories of brave men and women who left their homelands in search of a better life.”

The files not only contain routine demographic information, but they may also contain photographs, foreign birth certificates, marriage licenses, interview transcripts or actual recordings and more. Currently, the USCIS maintains about 53 million A-files; of these, about 21 million have been retired to a Federal Records Center. 

Previously, the A-file was considered a "temporary record" and could possibly have been disposed of 75 years from the date the file was retired to a Federal Records Center or 75 years from the date of last action. Now, the A-file becomes a permanent record that will transfer to National Archives custody 100 years from the individual’s date of birth. Newly eligible files will be transferred to the National Archives every five years. 

After transfer to the National Archives, the majority of files will be housed at the National Archives in Kansas City. Files on immigration through the port of San Francisco will be housed at the National Archives in San Francisco. Once these records have been transferred, they will be available for public view at these two National Archives centers. 

For more information on genealogical research, visit: www.uscis.gov/genealogy

-- Carlos Lozano