Asylum Seekers Win Feds’ Promise of Speed

     OAKLAND, Calif. – The U.S. government has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over not timely evaluating detained immigrants seeking asylum over fears of persecution in their home countries.
     Marco Antonio Alfaro Garcia, represented by the ACLU and National Immigration Justice Center, sued the Department of Homeland Security and Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2014 for violating the Administrative Procedure Act.
     The lawsuit claimed immigrants facing deportation can spend more than a year in the asylum process, despite a law requiring the government to decide within 10 days whether refuge-seekers reasonably fear persecution in their countries of origin.
     U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers granted preliminary approval of a settlement agreement between the two parties on Aug. 20.
     The agreement requires USCIS to reduce the average time it takes to refer fear-assessment cases to its asylum division to five days by next year.
     And the asylum division must make reasonable-fear determinations within an average of 10 days. The government is also prohibited from delaying those decisions longer than 20 days for any individual’s case.
     If the government fails to complete an individual’s reasonable-fear assessment within 20 days, it is required to notify the plaintiff class’ attorneys.
     If a reasonable-fear assessment takes more than 26 days, individual class members may seek relief on an individual basis, according to the settlement.
     The agreement also requires the government to submit monthly reports to class counsel to prove it is meeting the benchmarks required under the agreement.
     If the government achieves the average 5-day referral and 10-day decision mandates laid out in the settlement after one year, the reports will become quarterly instead of monthly.
     The U.S. government also agreed to pay the class $327,047 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
     As part of the settlement, the U.S. government admits no wrongdoing.
     A notice informing members of the class about the settlement will be posted at all Immigration and Customers Enforcement detention facilities, posted on USCIS, ACLU and NIJC websites and distributed to community-based and nonprofit organizations that offer advice and assistance to immigrants, according to the order.
     Class members may object to the settlement agreement in writing by Sept. 29.
     A fairness hearing to grant final approval for the settlement is slated for Oct. 20 in Oakland.

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