Agreement Reached in National Class Action Lawsuit on Work Authorization for Asylum Seekers

For Immediate Release
Monday, April 15, 2013

Contact: Chris Strawn, Staff Attorney, NWIRP, 206-957-8611
Wendy Feliz, AIC, 202-507-7524

Seattle, WA – The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have agreed to settle a nationwide class action lawsuit challenging the denial of work authorization to asylum seekers who have been waiting six months or more for a decision on their asylum applications. If approved by a federal judge, this agreement will help ensure that asylum seekers, who have fled persecution in their home countries, are not unlawfully prevented from working and supporting their families while the government adjudicates their cases.
The agreement stems from a case filed in December 2011 by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC), with co-counsel from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Seattle law firm Gibbs Houston Pauw. The complaint challenged widespread problems with the “asylum clock”—the system government agencies use to determine when immigrants who have applied for asylum may obtain permission to lawfully work in the United States.
The case, filed on behalf of asylum-seekers around the country, alleged that the current system unlawfully denies asylum applicants the opportunity to obtain employment authorization if their applications have been pending for six months or more. Some end up waiting several months or years for their cases to be decided. Employment authorization is critical as most applicants have fled their home countries without any resources, and thus have no means to support themselves. One plaintiff was a man from China who had been waiting nearly 10 years for his case to be resolved.
“We are extremely pleased that we were able to achieve a solution that we believe will help hundreds, if not thousands, of people seeking asylum,” said Chris Strawn, director of the asylum unit at NWIRP. “Many asylum seekers who were stuck in limbo, without any way to support themselves or their family members while waiting for their asylum applications to be resolved, will now be able to obtain employment authorization.”
“The settlement agreement includes significant changes to ensure that vulnerable asylum-seekers are no longer arbitrarily deprived of the ability to work while the government decides their cases,” according to Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney with the LAC.
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