|District Court Approves Settlement in Lawsuit Challenging Immigration Agency’s Unlawful Rejection of Over Sixty Thousand Humanitarian Applications|
|July 20, 2021|
Oakland, CA – Today, a federal district court judge in Oakland, California, approved a final settlement in the case of Vangala v. USCIS, providing relief to over sixty thousand applicants for humanitarian immigration benefits. The lawsuit, filed on November 19, 2020, against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), challenged an agency policy adopted under the Trump administration specifically targeting humanitarian benefits for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and asylum seekers. Under the policy, USCIS rejected applications that left any question in the application unanswered, even where the question was not applicable—for example where the applicant failed to include a response for middle name because they have no middle name. Additionally, USCIS rejected applications where the applicant wrote “none” or “not applicable” instead of “N/A.”
The lawsuit was filed by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), and the Van Der Hout law firm, on behalf of three applicants who sought to represent a nationwide class of individuals whose applications were rejected under the policy. They alleged that the policy was nothing more than a pretextual basis for denying applicants the opportunity to obtain humanitarian benefits provided by Congress.
On December 22, 2020, the agency agreed to suspend the policy, and the parties then entered settlement discussions to address the tens of thousands of applications that USCIS previously rejected. The U.S. district court adopted and approved the final settlement agreement on July 20, 2021.
Under the settlement agreement, USCIS will accept the original submission date of the more than sixty thousand applications it has identified as having been rejected under the policy. USCIS will send notices to these applicants explaining the steps they can take to ensure that their applications for humanitarian benefits are recorded as having been filed as of the date they were originally submitted. Without this relief, these applicants not only would suffer the delays caused by USCIS’ rejection of their applications, but many applicants or their family members would be rendered ineligible because they were unable to file the required forms by timelines specified in the statute.
In addition, the settlement agreement prevents the agency from adopting a similar rejection policy with respect to other immigration forms unless authorized by statute or lawfully implemented through regulations.
“It was an outrageous policy clearly aimed to impede individuals from obtaining the humanitarian benefits that Congress has provided,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “It aptly demonstrates the Trump administrations’ utter disregard of the law.”
“USCIS’ rejection policy served no legitimate purpose,” said Mary Kenney, Deputy Director for NILA. “Tens of thousands of applicants will now, finally, be able to move forward with applications that the agency should have accepted in 2020.”
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