PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — In the latest class challenge to U.S. refugee policies, Refugee Disability Benefits Oregon claims the United States illegally cut off benefits for disabled Iraqi and Afghani interpreters who helped the United States in the wars in their countries after Sept. 11, 2001.
Plaintiff John Doe worked for the United States as a translator in Iraq during the war. He resettled in Oregon with his family as “special immigrants,” but the government cut off his son’s disability benefits after eight months — a time limit that was changed in 2009.
Doe says the government never implemented an extension authorized in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2009 to extend disability benefits for Iraqi and Afghani special immigrants to seven years – the length of time given to other refugees.
Aided by the nonprofit Refugee Disability Benefits Oregon, Doe sued Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Nancy Berryhill and Deputy Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement Ken Tota.
Disabled refugees are entitled to $768 per month for up to seven years. But until the law was changed in 2009, special immigrants like Doe could get those benefits for only eight months. Despite the new law, the defendants refused Doe’s request for extended benefits.
Doe’s attorney James Coon said it’s unclear whether the government has ever granted the longer period of disability benefits to any special immigrant.
Despite the 2009 law and a subsequent emergency message from the Social Security Administration directing its field offices to honor it, the agency never updated its internal rules to reflect the change, the complaint states.
Coon, with Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost in Portland, said it appears that the government never has abided by the 2009 law, and may have been shortchanging disabled Iraqi interpreters for the past seven years.
Coon said he assumes that the problem stemmed from a simple oversight – a small change that got lost in the vast language of the defense appropriations bill.
Despite its harsher policies toward immigrants, Coon said, he hopes the Trump administration will respond to the lawsuit by simply correcting the error.
“I don’t know why they’d want politically not to help these people who helped the government,” Coon said. “And the current administration cannot go back and change the law to deprive these people of their benefits.”