Class Action Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Agencies’ Unlawful Policies Preventing Asylum Seekers from Obtaining Work Authorization

Class Action Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Agencies’ Unlawful Policies Preventing Asylum Seekers from Obtaining Work Authorization


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 9, 2022

Seattle, WA – Today, five asylum applicants filed a national class action lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) challenging policies and practices that unlawfully prevent them and hundreds of other asylum applicants from obtaining authorization to work while their asylum claims are pending.

Congress directed the adjudication of asylum applications within six months, but USCIS and EOIR rarely are able to meet this deadline. In recognition of the needs of asylum seekers to provide for themselves and their families while pursuing asylum, Congress also provided that applicants are entitled to employment authorization if their applications have been pending for more than six months. However, USCIS suspends the running of the six-month waiting period, known as “the asylum EAD clock,” for any applicant-caused delay. The lawsuit alleges that the agencies impermissibly prevent asylum seekers from accruing 180 days through three policies and practices that prevent the asylum EAD clock from running: when an asylum applicant wins their case on appeal; seeks to change the location of their immigration court proceedings; or when an unaccompanied child applicant waits for USCIS to first adjudicate the application, as mandated by Congress. The lawsuit further challenges EOIR’s and USCIS’ failure to provide adequate notice of adverse asylum EAD clock determinations or a viable mechanism for asylum applicants to challenge these determinations.  

The consequences of unlawfully stopping the asylum EAD clock deprive asylum seekers of the ability to provide even the most basic necessities for themselves and their families, cause the loss of drivers’ licenses, bar them from obtaining government-issued identification, and cause significant stress and anxiety.

Filed by the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA) and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the suit asks the federal court to order the agencies to establish a mechanism that provides an asylum applicant a meaningful opportunity to contest an asylum EAD clock and to cease its unlawful failure to stop, not start, or fail to restart the asylum EAD clock.

“Our clients and other class members simply wish to be able to work to support themselves and their families,” said Mary Kenney, Deputy Director of NILA. “This lawsuit seeks to strike down Defendants’ unlawful and arbitrary policies which prevent them from doing so.”  

“There is no legal basis to deprive these asylum seekers of the right to work to support themselves and their family members while often forced to wait years for the agency to decide whether they qualify for asylum,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP.

The complaint can be viewed here.

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Media contacts:

Matt Adams, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

(206) 957-8611; matt@nwirp.org

Trina Realmuto, National Immigration Litigation Alliance

(617) 819-4447; trina@immigrationlitigation.org

The National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA) is an immigrants’ rights nonprofit that strives to protect, enforce, and expand the rights of noncitizens and individuals perceived to be noncitizens by engaging in impact litigation and by building the capacity of immigration attorneys to litigate in federal court. NILA seeks to accomplish the later through its co-counseling and strategic assistance programs as well as through publications and presentations. Follow NILA at www.immigrationlitigation.org, on Twitter at @NILA_ImmLit, and on Facebook at NatImmLitAlliance