Federal Court Approves Settlement Providing Protections for Thousands of Asylum Seekers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 8, 2024


Federal Court Approves Settlement Providing Protections for Thousands of Asylum Seekers

SEATTLE, January 8, 2024—Last Friday, a federal judge in Seattle issued an order approving a settlement agreement providing protections for detained asylum seekers who face prolonged delays before being screened to apply for protection from persecution and torture. The parties submitted the proposed settlement agreement following over five years of litigation. Judge Marsha Pechman approved the settlement at the conclusion of a hearing today at the federal court in Seattle, Washington.

The case is Padilla v. ICE, and the plaintiffs and nationwide class of asylum seekers are represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), and the American Immigration Council.

Plaintiffs in this case challenged systemic delays that force asylum seekers to remain detained for months before they are screened to apply for asylum. In March 2019, the federal court certified a nationwide class of similarly situated individuals.

Thousands of people seeking protection in the United States are detained upon arriving and summarily deported in short order. However, those who express a fear of persecution or torture are entitled to be screened by an asylum officer in what is referred to as a “credible fear interview.” If the officer determines they have a credible fear (that is, demonstrate a significant likelihood of qualifying for asylum), they then have the right to a full hearing before an immigration judge where they can formally apply for asylum. The lawsuit challenged the government’s delays in providing these credible fear interviews, leaving asylum seekers languishing in prison for months.

The settlement now provides relief to those subjected to delays of more than 60 days with limited exceptions (such as when the person asks for more time to find a lawyer). If an asylum officer has not made a credible fear determination within 60 days the person is entitled to have their case immediately transferred to an immigration judge for full proceedings. They no longer need to wait indefinitely for an initial screening.

“This is an important step towards reducing prolonged imprisonment for asylum seekers,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Unfortunately, many remain detained even while their cases continue before the immigration court. Accordingly, we continue to call on DHS to ensure that persons in full immigration proceedings are released to their families and communities.”

“The settlement agreement is critical to ensuring that the process for screening asylum seekers moves forward because it requires the Department of Homeland Security to refer cases and conduct credible fear screenings within 7-day and 60-day time periods and to place the person in full removal proceedings before an immigration judge if it fails to comply with the terms of the agreement,” said Trina Realmuto, executive director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance.

“By targeting bureaucratic delays at the very start of the asylum process, this settlement agreement will help protect asylum seekers from further harmful detention and ensure that people have their credible claims for protection quickly heard,” said Emma Winger, deputy legal director with the American Immigration Council.

A copy of the courts order is available HERE.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available HERE.

For more information, contact:

Matt Adams, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, matt@nwirp.org or 206-501-6249.

Trina Realmuto, National Immigration Litigation Alliance, trina@immigrationlitigation.org or 617-819-4447.

Emma Winger, American Immigration Council, ewinger@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7512.

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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. Follow NILA at www.immigrationlitigation.org, on Twitter at @NILA_ImmLit, and on Facebook at NatImmLitAlliance.

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