A federal judge in Washington, DC has ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to decide within a week how it will handle a Freedom of Information Act request from the conservative Heritage Foundation for the Duke of Sussex’s immigration documents.
DHS has yet to answer to the request, causing the organization to file a lawsuit, citing Prince Harry’s earlier disclosures of drug use, including as in his biography Spare.
The department claimed that an order to compel DHS to expedite the request should be denied because the foundation has not demonstrated how the information will cause irreparable harm if it is not supplied.
Representing the government, Assistant US Attorney John Bardo argued on Tuesday that it wouldn’t make a difference when the request was handled, even if the response came a year from now.
The Heritage Foundation said the interest in Prince Harry’s immigration status would wain.
Large portions of the hearing focused on Prince Harry and his alleged drug usage, which some legal experts think would have banned him from entering the US.
According to the Heritage Foundation, the federal government may have shown favoritism and turned a blind eye to behaviors that may have caused the authorities to deny the visa application. The foundation also urged that the public should be permitted to view Prince Harry’s immigration documents to determine whether he provided false information.
Mr. Bardo contended that for a request to be expedited, mainstream US media coverage was essential. He mentioned The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and television networks.
Meanwhile, Heritage lawyer Samuel Dewey argued before Judge Carl Nichols that DHS regulations simply say “media” without identifying where the outlets are located.
“You can’t define mainstream,” Mr. Dewey told The Independent. In this perspective, that’s nearly ludicrous. As a policy standpoint, that is a very concerning statement for the press and for the administration’s transparency.”
Nile Gardiner, the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the foundation, added: “I do find it astonishing that the British press is referenced as obscure.”
“These are big publications with a wide global reach including millions of Americans who read these newspapers and I find it absolutely astonishing this description today [that there’s] some media that actually count and matter and others that do not. That is an extraordinary statement to make and absolutely unacceptable,” he added.
Mr Dewey argued in court that today’s media is global, noting that The Daily Mail had 100 million page views in the US in the month of April.
At the Tuesday hearing, Judge Nichols gave DHS a deadline of Tuesday next week – 13 June – to outline via email if it will expedite the request or provide a response.
Three DHS agencies, including USCIS and US Customs and Border Protection, have rejected the FOIA request, but DHS Headquarters has yet to answer, with Mr. Bardo stating during the hearing that no search for the files has taken place at DHS Headquarters.
The Department of Homeland Security stated in legal filings that US Customs and Border Protection declined the requests because Prince Harry has not consented to the publication of the information, with Mr. Bardo stating in court that an individual’s visa is “confidential.”
Mr. Dewey told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, that Prince Harry had waived his right to privacy as a result of his high-profile interviews and Netflix documentary series.
Mr Dewey argued in court that the case is part of a larger probe into the conduct of the federal government, specifically into DHS supposedly not following the law in other areas of its responsibilities, such as not protecting the US border with Mexico.
“What are we asking for here?” Mr Dewey told reporters outside the courthouse. “We are only asking for the records that are related to this question that has been raised about the drug use and admission … he’s talked about it, he’s written about it extensively, he has waived any privacy interest he has in his drug use, he has bragged about it in Spare and sold that.”
“We are calling for accountability, transparency, and openness from the Biden presidency,” Dr Gardner said. “We believe there is a tremendous public interest in the release of these records in order to establish that US immigration law is fair, [that] it applies equally to everyone.”
“It is our view, definitely, that the public needs to see these … documents and [what] exactly what Prince Harry put down on his application, especially in relation to his widespread drug use admitted to in Spare,” he added.
Dr. Gardner said the foundation wants “to establish whether or not any favours were granted to Prince Harry, whether there was a preferential treatment given to Prince Harry in any way”.
The director of the Oversight Project at The Heritage Foundation, Mike Howell, told reporters after the hearing that “the everyday American is absolutely sick and tired of globalist elites lecturing us, looking down at us, dominating our cultural institutions, and no one proves that point more than Prince Harry”.
“They’re also sick and tired of a broken immigration system, one that we see a dual standard at play every single day,” he added.
Prince Harry wrote in Spare that cocaine “didn’t do anything for me”.“Marijuana is different, that actually really did help me,” he added.
The details contained in Harry’s visa application could, the Heritage Foundation argues, spell trouble for his future life in the United States.
An admission of drug use does not automatically ban you from the United States for life.
Any denial of entry can be overturned after an in-person interview at a US consulate or official immigration office, where a waiver can be issued.
The D.C. hearing came after Prince Harry gave evidence to English judges in his case against the publisher of British tabloid the Daily Mirror.
He is suing Mirror Group Newspapers for damages, claiming journalists were linked to unlawful methods of information gathering.