Judge Finds Treatment of Asylees “National Embarrassment”

The American Immigration Law Foundation hails the ruling of a federal judge today, condemning the former Immigration and Naturalization Service for “widespread,” “egregious” and “plainly harmful” violations of law that “constitute nothing short of a national embarrassment.” The judge ruled in a national class action filed on behalf of more than a 150,000 asylees in the United States filed by the American Immigration Law Foundation in Washington, D.C., the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in Boston, and the law firm Dorsey and Whitney in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The case is Ngwanyia v. Ashcroft, No. 02-502(RHK/AJB) (D. Minnesota).

The case was brought on behalf of immigrants who were granted asylum in the United States but who are waiting in a long queue to become lawful permanent residents of the United States (to obtain “green cards.”) Plaintiffs successfully argued that over the last decade, the INS -- now known as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security -- unlawfully failed to adjust the status of almost 22,000 asylees through simple mismanagement. The INS’s failures lengthened the individuals’ wait before they can become U.S. citizens and extended the waiting list for all asylees in the queue by more than two years.

U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle, of the District Court of Minnesota, today ordered the government to adjust the status of nearly 22,000 waiting asylees now that plaintiffs have uncovered the INS’s past failures.

In his order issued today, Judge Kyle also railed against the INS’s “Kafkaesque” procedures for asylees to obtain work permits. He held that the defendants improperly required individual asylees to reapply for a work permit every year at a cost of $120. Months of delay and mounds of unnecessary paperwork resulted. The law requires the government to grant a work permit automatically and to keep it valid as long as an asylee remains an asylee: “not a minute shorter, and not a minute longer” the Judge held.

Judge Kyle condemned the INS for their “one-law-for-for-Tuesdays-and-another-law-for-Wednesdays” mismanagement, including practices that varied office-by-office and day-by-day. He criticized a liberalized but “stealth” policy regarding work permits, as a policy announced for the litigation but never communicated to anyone in the field.

“We are gratified that the judge saw the issues as we did,” said Nadine Wettstein, Director of the Legal Action Center for the American Immigration Law Foundation. This decision will help thousands of hardworking people to stabilize and improve their lives and sends a clear message to the USCIS that they are accountable to the public.”

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Cite as AILA Doc. No. 04021264.

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