BOSTON (AP) — The federal government routinely denies access to records that may help defendants in immigration cases, putting immigrants facing court action at a disadvantage from the start, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a lawsuit filed in Boston.

The organization's Massachusetts chapter argues in the suit filed Friday that the Department of Homeland Security systematically withholds records of immigrants facing detention, deportation and other actions.

The agency's nondisclosure policy violates federal law and forces immigration lawyers to defend their clients with incomplete information, the ACLU said.

The organization also argued the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem in Boston. It said a court order currently prevents immigrants and attorneys who appear by teleconference from examining any documents or evidence introduced by DHS in court.

The ACLU argues that oftentimes the records sought are not confidential and could bolster a defendant’s case, yet DHS requires defendants to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

Such public records requests take so long that the immigrants can be deported long before the information is provided, the organization said.

Spokespersons for DHS didn't respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. The lawsuit has been filed on behalf Greater Boston Legal Services and other immigration law firms and lawyers.