Lawsuit Challenges Immigration Agency’s Protracted Delays in Reunifying Eritrean Refugees with Their Families


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, December 30, 2021

Los Angeles, CA – Six North Carolina residents, all refugees who fled persecution in Eritrea, are suing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the agency’s extensive delays in processing petitions to reunite them with their family members who are facing perilous conditions abroad. Most of these family members are in Ethiopia, a country wracked with civil strife, and are targets of persecution and violence.

Immigration law permits refugees to petition to bring their spouses and children to the United States. Although Congress indicated that USCIS should complete processing of these petitions within 6 months, a position the Biden Administration claims to endorse, USCIS’ Los Angeles Asylum Office, the entity charged with processing the petitions, takes an average of nearly two years, and, in many cases, years longer to do so. These excessive delays cause extreme hardship to families abroad.  

For example, Plaintiff H.M.’s husband, from whom she has been separated for more than 5.5 years, was arrested and detained as part of a series of attacks on migrants. “It is especially hard for my son. He cannot even pay attention in school because he is worrying about his father all the time,” she said, “He is terrified about whether his father is safe or even alive.”

Plaintiff P.O.’s wife and three-year old son, as Eritrean immigrants who speak Tigrinya, face systemic discrimination. “Ethiopia is not a safe place now,” he said, “My son has grown up with his mother only, and if something happened, I would not be able to help them. If they were in a safe place, I would not be so worried about how long this process is taking.”

Plaintiff N.Z.’s husband, from whom she has been separated for more than 11 years, has never met his youngest son and last saw his eldest son when he was only a year old. “It is hard for my children, especially the littlest one, and especially during the holidays,” she said, “They feel sad about their father not being here. They do not understand why the process is taking so long. They ask me questions about why that is, and I do not have answers for them.” 

Plaintiff K.G.’s wife and three children are fearful whenever they leave their home in Ethiopia. “When I came to the United States, I learned that it was my right to reunite with my family,” he said, “The United States government should take responsibility and bring my family here so that they can be safe and reunited with me. There is no one else, no other government, who can make sure my family is safe.”

All six plaintiffs worked with the Durham office of Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency, to prepare and file petitions for their families. “The US government tells refugees that they will be able to petition for their families upon resettlement in the United States and that they will be reunited expeditiously, but these families remain separated and in increasingly dangerous conditions,” said Katherine Cogswell, the Associate Director of Immigration Legal Services. “It is beyond time for the U.S. government to step up to the plate and put forward the necessary resources and fortitude to bring these families back together.”

Represented by the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, the plaintiffs allege that USCIS’s protracted delay in reuniting families with refugee status is unreasonable, unlawful, and violates Congressional intent. The lawsuit asks the court to order the agency to immediately adjudicate the families’ refugee petitions.

“Our clients, who fled their homes and sought refuge in the United States, already have persevered over tremendous hardship,” said Kristin Macleod-Ball, Senior Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Litigation Alliance, “They deserve to be quickly reunited with their families. USCIS should act quickly, as Congress intended, to rule on their families’ refugee petitions.”

The complaint can be viewed here.

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Media contacts:

Kristin Macleod-Ball, National Immigration Litigation Alliance
(617) 506-3646; kristin@immigrationlitigation.org

Katherine Cogswell, Church World Service
(919) 680-3585; ccogswell@cwsglobal.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