The American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center recently filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, the Executive Office for Immigration Review and top immigration authorities, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The suit was filed on behalf of a group of asylum seekers alleging they have been improperly denied the right to work due to flawed bureaucratic processes.
At issue is a mechanism known as the asylum EAD clock. Under U.S. law, immigration authorities have six months to review and render a decision on asylum applications. If the application has not been accepted or denied at the end of this 180-day period, the asylum seeker has the right to an Employment Authorization Document in order to secure work and support him or herself while the application is pending. According to the AIC lawsuit, the defendants have instituted unconstitutional policies regarding when that 180-day waiting period begins and ends – in effect stopping and starting the asylum EAD clock improperly.
According to the lawsuit, immigration agencies have no uniform system for notifying asylum applicants when their asylum EAD clock has started or been stopped, or for informing them as to the reasons for these stoppages. In addition, some members of the class are suing the defendants for the practice of starting the 180-day countdown after the first immigration court hearing and not after the filing of the complete asylum application. Other plaintiffs are suing the defendants for not restarting the clock after it had been stopped for legal reasons that were subsequently resolved.
As a result of the improper administration of the asylum EAD clock, the plaintiffs allege they have been denied the chance to work, in some cases for years. One plaintiff is a Chinese immigrant who filed his asylum application in 2003.
According to the USCIS website, EADs are automatically granted upon approval of asylum applications, and asylees can also begin the process of obtaining a Social Security card by filling out immigration form I-94.