ShareThis Page
World

U.S. judge opens door for thousands to apply for asylum

| Thursday, March 29, 2018, 7:51 p.m.
In this Feb. 17, 2017 file photo, protesters chant 'Free Daniel' during a demonstration outside the federal courthouse in Seattle, where a hearing was held for Daniel Ramirez Medina, a Seattle-area man who was arrested by immigration agents.
Associated Press
In this Feb. 17, 2017 file photo, protesters chant 'Free Daniel' during a demonstration outside the federal courthouse in Seattle, where a hearing was held for Daniel Ramirez Medina, a Seattle-area man who was arrested by immigration agents.
In this Jan. 16, 2018, file photo, supporters look on as Maru Mora-Villalpando speaks at a news conference in Seattle announcing that the longtime activist for illegal immigrants in the Northwest says she herself is now facing deportation.
Associated Press
In this Jan. 16, 2018, file photo, supporters look on as Maru Mora-Villalpando speaks at a news conference in Seattle announcing that the longtime activist for illegal immigrants in the Northwest says she herself is now facing deportation.

SEATTLE — A federal judge in Seattle opened the door Thursday for thousands of immigrants to apply for asylum, finding that the Department of Homeland Security has routinely failed to notify them of a deadline for filing their applications.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez issued the ruling in a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrant rights groups on behalf of those who fear persecution if returned to their home country.

In many cases, those asylum seekers are released from custody after officials have interviewed them and determined their fears to be credible. They're told that they'll need to appear in immigration court, but they typically aren't directly told that they only have a year to apply for asylum.

Because of a backlog in immigration cases, the asylum seekers are not given a hearing within a year, and thus, by the time they show up in court and learn about the deadline, it's already passed, Martinez found.

“This means many asylum seekers who were previously going to have a door slammed in their face are now able to say, ‘No, a federal court has said that I am timely filing my application and you need to accept it,' ” said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and an attorney for the plaintiffs.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The judge ordered the department to begin providing notice about the one-year deadline within 90 days any time an immigrant seeking asylum is released from custody pending deportation proceedings. He also said the department must give those who missed the deadline another year to file their applications.

Further, Martinez told the department it must fix another catch-22 in its system: that while asylum-seekers must file their asylum applications within a year, the government refuses to accept the applications unless the applicant has been given a formal notice to appear in immigration court.

Often those notices aren't issued within a year, so even if asylum seekers know about the one-year deadline, there's virtually no way for them to meet it, Martinez said.

He ordered the government to come up with a uniform system for accepting asylum applications.

“Defendants have left class members without an adequate mechanism to timely file their asylum applications, thereby denying them the opportunity to exercise their statutory right to apply for asylum,” Martinez wrote.

Government lawyers argued that they do publish some materials that inform asylum seekers of the deadline and that federal law does not require that officials directly notify asylum seekers of the deadline upon their release from custody. The judge disagreed on the latter point and said the former wasn't good enough.

Martinez noted comments from Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, also cited by the plaintiffs, about the one-year deadline in 1996: “I am committed to ensuring that those with legitimate claims of asylum are not returned to persecution, particularly for technical deficiencies. If the time limit is not implemented fairly, or cannot be implemented fairly, I will be prepared to revisit this issue in a later Congress.”

Among the asylum-seekers who sued was Lidia Margarita Lopez Orellana, who arrived in Eagle Pass, Texas, from Guatemala in 2014 with her two youngest children in tow. She said that despite checking in with immigration authorities regularly as required, she didn't learn about the deadline until December 2015, when she met with a lawyer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me