Class Action Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Agency’s Unlawful Rejection of Thousands of Humanitarian Applications

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 19, 2020

San Francisco, CA – Today, immigration advocates filed a national class action lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) challenging a new agency policy, which has resulted in the rejection of thousands of applications filed by vulnerable immigrants. The lawsuit alleges that the agency rolled out the new rule by specifically targeting humanitarian benefits provided by Congress, including those for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking; asylum seekers; and children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Under the new policy, USCIS rejects applications that have any blank response field, even where the question is not applicable—for example where the applicant fails to include a response for middle name because they have no middle name. In many cases, USCIS’ implementation of the new rule has led to rejections even where the applicant did include responses in all of fields, as in one of the named Plaintiffs’ cases. Additionally, the rule is so arbitrary that USCIS has rejected applications where the applicant wrote “none” or “not applicable” instead of “N/A.”

The consequences of the agency’s rejection policy are harsh. Applicants have missed the deadline for applying for asylum, lost the ability for their children, siblings, or parents to obtain status, incurred additional costs related to refiling, and been denied eligibility for work permits.

Filed by the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), and the Van Der Hout law firm, the suit asks the federal court to prohibit USCIS from rejecting applications based on the new policy and to require the agency to issue receipt notices for the applications that were unlawfully rejected.

“USCIS’ rejection policy is meanspirited, underhanded, and illegal,” said Mary Kenney, Deputy Director of NILA. “Its rejection of thousands of applications for humanitarian immigration benefits because the applicant left a space blank rather than put ‘N/A’ serves no legitimate agency purpose but has inflicted great harm on vulnerable immigrants.”

“This policy is clearly aimed at obstructing individuals from obtaining the humanitarian benefits that Congress has provided,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “Apart from its unlawful motive, the policy also violates the regulations and was implemented without the required notice.”

“The immigration process is already complicated enough. We now know that USCIS has again created invisible barriers by inventing petty new excuses to reject legitimate applications,” said Zachary Nightingale, a partner at Van Der Hout LLP. “The rejections are so facially absurd, that the true purpose, to deter and prevent valid claims, becomes undeniably clear. Shamefully, this time, the target includes some of the most vulnerable and qualified immigrants.”

The complaint can be viewed here.


Media contacts:

Trina Realmuto, 617-819-4447,   

Matt Adams, 206-957-8611,

Zachary Nightingale, 415-981-3000

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