Class Action Filed Against INS for Family Unity Violations

Thursday, August 24, 2000 


Matt Tallmer, AILA, 202-216-2404,

Nadine Wettstein, AILF, 202-371-6450 X 600,

Linton Joaquin, Southern California National Immigration Law Center,  213-639-3900 X 111,

Mark Silverman, Northern California Immigrant Legal Resource Center, 415-255-9499 X 627,

Paul Arter, Arizona, 602-254-5605,



LOS ANGELES, CA. The American Immigration Law Foundation, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and the National Immigration Law Centertoday filed a federal court suit against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), charging the agency with violating its statutory responsibilities under the Family Unity Program.

Begun in 1989, the Family Unity program allowed immediate family members of some permanent residents to remain in the U.S. while their green card applications were processed. The INS agreed to not deport family members and grant them employment authorization while their applications were pending. Congress in 1990 made the Family Unity Program permanent and mandatory. In 1996, Congressalso ordered the INS not to consider people in the Family Unity Program to have an “unlawful presence” in the United States.

Because the INS is not following Congress’ mandates, the Foundation and its co-counsel filed the lawsuit. Specifically, the suit charges that the INS is refusing to process Family Unity and employment authorization applications.  For example, many applicants at the INS’s California Service Center have been waiting more than two years for the INS to issue what should be routine approvals. 

As a result, thousands of spouses and children of permanent residents and U.S. citizens are threatened with deportation, and are not being granted work authorization.  The plaintiffs have been fired from their jobs or have been unable to register for school because of the INS’s failures to process their applications.  The Foundation estimates that as many as 11,000 Family Unity applications may beawaiting processing.

The suit charges that, contrary to congressional mandates, the INS considers the time it takes to process a Family Unity application as “unlawful presence.” Under an overly harsh 1996 change in immigration law, people who the INS considers to be “unlawfully present” – even some who have been given permission to remain here - can be barred from re-entering this country for up to ten years.  The suit charges that the INS is creating the very delay that may cause people to be barred from reentering the United States.

“We are suing to force the INS to comply with federal law. Thousands of eligible husbands, wives and children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are threatened with being permanently separated from their families and are being denied the opportunity to earn a living because of the INS’ refusal to follow the law,” said Peggy McCormick, the Foundation’s President. “A government agency should not be allowed to tear apart families or deny business access to valued employees.”

“We tried for months to settle this case without litigation,” McCormick continued, “but the INS did not respond to our inquiries. As a result, we have been forced to file this suit seeking to force the INS to reduce its unconscionable backlogs. We want the INS to do its job as mandated by Congress, so that thousands of eligible families are not unlawfully torn apart and thousands of American businesses can retain valued employees. The time has come for the INS to function efficiently, fairly and effectively so that family members can remain united and support themselves, and business can retain valued workers.”  

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 00082459.