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In an unprecedented settlement in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to rescind an asylum seeker’s expedited removal order and allow her to seek asylum before an immigration judge.

“This case illustrates a central problem with the assembly-line justice that is used to deport people from the United States,” said Keren Zwick, managing attorney for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. “Our laws say that people like Ms. Maldonado-Lopez can apply for asylum, but our procedures short-circuit that right. We hope that this case will lead to further investigation of expedited removal practices.”

Yesenia Maldonado-Lopez fled to the United States to escape severe abuse she suffered as a lesbian in El Salvador. When she was 14, her parents forced her to marry a man 50 years her senior to “cure her of” her orientation. She eventually fled to the United States, but she was apprehended and given an expedited removal order, meaning that she was deported without ever seeing an immigration judge. She fled El Salvador again, about a year after her deportation, because she again suffered persecution for being a lesbian. When border patrol arrested her upon reentry in 2011, government rules prevented her from applying for asylum because she had been previously deported.

Most removals from the United States now occur without the involvement of an immigration judge. Approximately 39 percent of removals involve the reinstatement of a prior removal order, and another 35 percent involve an expedited removal order issued by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Ms. Maldonado-Lopez filed a federal court appeal, arguing that she should be entitled to seek asylum despite her previous expedited removal order. She argued that there was a conflict between the procedures and regulations governing reinstated removal proceedings and the asylum statute. According to the regulations, individuals with a prior removal order are not eligible to seek asylum (but may apply for a lesser relief called withholding of removal). The asylum statute, however, explicitly provides that “any alien,” regardless of immigration status, is eligible to apply for asylum.

Several organizations filed two friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Ms. Maldonado-Lopez. The American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area addressed the right to seek asylum despite a prior removal order, and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed a brief on behalf of itself and 11 other organizations to address the forced marriage at issue in the case.

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and pro bono partners at Ropes & Gray LLP represented Ms. Maldonado Lopez in her federal court appeal.

Click here to read more analysis of this case and download briefing documents