Biden Admin Settles Suit Over Afghan Asylum App Delays

By Ryan Harroff | September 8, 2023, 8:00 PM EDT ·

President Joe Biden's administration has agreed to adjudicate at least half of the pending asylum bids filed by Afghan applicants by October as part of a settlement resolving a proposed class action that accused the government of failing to meet its own timetable for those fleeing renewed Taliban rule.

According to an unopposed motion for settlement approval filed Thursday in California federal court by the seven Afghans who brought the suit back in April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have agreed that 50% of applications filed before June 3 will be adjudicated by Oct. 31, then 65% of applications filed before Aug. 3 must be decided before the end of this year. After that, the settlement states that the government will adjudicate successively higher percentages of applications filed in the later months of 2023 and ultimately agree to resolve applications filed on or after Feb. 2, 2024, within 150 days of their initial filing.

That 150-day deadline for adjudicating asylum applications was the original timetable set by the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, according to the settlement motion. The named plaintiffs, referred to as Ahmed, Abdul, Amir, Siddiqa, Rahmatullah, Fatima and Mursal Sadat in the motion, had said in their complaint that the government failed to meet that deadline to the point that many applicants were still waiting on an answer to their asylum requests years after filing and were at risk of their temporary immigration status expiring before their adjudications.

Sadat celebrated the proposed settlement in a Thursday statement on the deal, saying that "this situation has hurt so many people seeking permanent relief" and the agreed-upon adjudication deadlines will help to remedy the issue.

"I am very happy that we have reached a settlement that will change this situation, so that asylum seekers can restart and rebuild their lives," Sadat said. "I may have received asylum since this lawsuit was filed, but I worry about the many others who have not been as lucky."

Edward Hillenbrand, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who is representing the proposed class pro bono along with attorneys from the National Immigrant Justice Center, also said the deal would help asylum applicants get their lives in motion again in a Friday statement to Law360.

"The settlement is a tremendous victory for approximately 20,000 Afghans who came to the United States in search of a better life after the fall of Kabul," Hillenbrand said. "It will allow these asylum applicants and their families to move forward with their lives."

Richard Caldarone, also pro bono counsel for the proposed class, lauded the settlement in a Thursday statement that noted many of the asylum applicants came after the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan.

"The U.S. government rightly promised that people who worked to support human rights and build democracy in Afghanistan could resettle in the United States," Caldarone said. "The settlement ensures that the government will fulfill that promise to tens of thousands of our allies."

Representatives for DHS and USCIS did not immediately reply to requests for comment Friday.

The government is represented by Ruth Ann Mueller, Alexander James Halaska and Richard Gordon Winstead Ingebretsen of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division.

The proposed class is represented by Edward Hillenbrand and Michael F. Williams of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Richard Caldarone, Keren Zwick and Colleen Cowgill of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The case is AHMED et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, case number 4:23-cv-01892, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Additional reporting by Rae Ann Varona. Editing by Scott Russell.

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