Northwest Immigrant Rights Project & Partners Target “Asylum Clock” in Class Action Lawsuit

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Contact: Matt Adams, Legal Director, NWIRP, (206)-957-8600


Seattle, WA — Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) today asked a federal court to certify as a class action a suit filed last week alleging 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.  In general, federal laws require the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to adjudicate asylum applications within six months.  If the application is not denied or completed within six months, the applicant is entitled to obtain employment authorization (a work permit) while waiting on the agency to complete the process.

The complaint, co-filed with the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC), Seattle firm Gibbs Houston Pauw, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was submitted on behalf of hundreds of asylum applicants across the country who were wrongfully denied work permits due to unlawful agency policies.
“Despite knowing of these problems for years, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have failed to address them in a meaningful manner,” said Matt Adams, legal director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Too many people are left in abject poverty for months and sometimes years, while waiting for their asylum application to be resolved.  All they seek is the opportunity to support themselves while their applications are pending.” 
Plaintiffs allege that the current system unlawfully denies asylum applicants the opportunity to obtain employment authorization if their case has been pending for six months or more.  Some end up waiting several months or years for their applications to be completed.  Employment authorization is critical as most applicants have fled their home countries without any resources, and are left without a means to support themselves. Named plaintiffs include a man from China who has been waiting eight years for his case to be resolved.
The complaint alleges three main problems with the “asylum clock”:

  • Decisions related to the “clock” are made without notice to the asylum seeker and are not subject to sufficient review.
  • The “clock” does not start until the first hearing before an immigration judge, regardless of when the asylum application was filed, and independent of the first available hearing date, even if it is many months in the future.