In April 2023, NIJC and Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a class action against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for failing to timely adjudicate the asylum applications of thousands of Afghan people who entered the United States under Operation Allies Welcome.
In September 2023, plaintiffs reached a settlement with the U.S. government expected to help approximately 20,000 Afghan people seeking asylum in the United States. Read more about the settlement in the press release announcing the agreement; more information will be available posted to this page soon.
About the case
During the 20 years in which the United States maintained a presence in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghan people supported the U.S. military, worked to rebuild the country and to create and maintain a democratically elected government, or advocated for equal rights for women and ethnic and religious minorities. In recognition of those efforts and the danger these people would face from the Taliban, President Biden created Operation Allies Welcome, an effort led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct background screenings of Afghan people fleeing the Taliban and then promptly resettle them in the United States. Congress added its support, making Afghan people who entered the country under Operation Allies Welcome eligible for the same benefits as people already determined to be refugees. Congress also required USCIS to adjudicate asylum applications filed by those people within 150 days, except where extraordinary circumstances exist.
USCIS has systematically violated that deadline, breaking the government’s promise to our Afghan allies. By USCIS’s own admission, it has decided only 1,700—or about 11%—of the 15,697 asylum applications submitted by Afghan people resettled in the United States under Operation Allies Welcome. The agency has further admitted that it granted asylum in all but 7 (99.6%) of those 1,700 cases, an implicit acknowledgment that Afghan people who supported the United States, democracy, and civil rights have extremely strong claims for asylum.
USCIS’s unlawful delays have serious consequences. Many Afghan people seeking asylum in the United States have family members—including children, parents, and spouses—who were not able to evacuate Afghanistan and who remain in hiding from the Taliban. Those separated families have no way to see each other, much less permanently reunite, until and unless USCIS acts on pending applications. Moreover, unless USCIS quickly decides on the remaining 14,000 asylum applications, Afghan people will lose their eligibility for various federal benefits when their parole expires in August or September. University students will be especially affected, because the end of their parole means they will lose access to federal financial aid unless they receive a grant of asylum in the interim.
Because of these harms, seven Afghan people with pending asylum applications asked the court to order USCIS to promptly decide their asylum cases and the asylum cases of thousands of other people in the same situation. Specifically, plaintiffs seek an order requiring USCIS to make decisions on cases in which the 150-day deadline has passed within 30 days and to obey the deadline in all other pending asylum cases filed by Afghan people who entered the United States under Operation Allies Welcome.
The seven named plaintiffs in this case all fled Afghanistan during the final U.S. withdrawal from that country in August 2021 and entered the United States after going through background checks conducted by DHS and other federal agencies. Each of the plaintiffs either assisted the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, worked for the prior Afghan government, advocated for women’s rights, or is a member of a religious or ethnic minority persecuted by the Taliban. Many plaintiffs have family members who are in hiding in Afghanistan or elsewhere awaiting authorization to enter the United States. Because of the risk that they or their families will be further targeted by the Taliban, most plaintiffs are proceeding under pseudonyms.
For example, lead plaintiff Ahmed worked both for a company that contracted with the U.S. military and for the Afghan government. He was able to flee Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal with a son who is now 11, but his wife and other children remain stranded and in hiding in Afghanistan. This family separation, which has been prolonged by USCIS’s delays, has had a significant impact on the mental health of his children.
As one further example, plaintiff Mursal Sadat worked in Kabul for the United Nations and then, after two years of U.S. government background checks, for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She was forced to leave Afghanistan without her parents, who suffer from serious medical conditions, or her siblings. Although her family managed to flee to Pakistan, they are in a precarious position in that country and are dependent on her for financial support, and she cannot leave the United States to visit them until USCIS adjudicates her asylum application.
April 14, 2021 - President Biden announces that the United States will begin withdrawing all remaining troops from Afghanistan on May 1, 2021.
August 15, 2021 - The Taliban effectively take control of Kabul, completing their recapture of Afghanistan.
August 29, 2021 - President Biden announces Operation Allies Welcome, an effort led by DHS to resettle Afghan people in the United States. The vast majority of Afghan people who enter the country under Operation Allies Welcome are given two years of humanitarian parole, enabling them to stay in the United States while they apply for asylum or another status.
August 30, 2021 - The United States completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
September 30, 2021 - Congress passes a continuing resolution requiring USICS to adjudicate asylum applications filed by Afghan people who entered the country under Operation Allies Welcome within 150 days of filing.
April 3, 2023 - USCIS releases data showing that it has adjudicated only 11% of the 15,697 asylum applications filed by Afghan people who entered the United States under Operation Allies Welcome, and that it granted 99.6% (all but 7) of the few applications it decided.
April 20, 2023 - NIJC and Kirkland & Ellis file suit challenging USCIS’s systematic violation of the 150-day adjudication deadline.
Filed complaint (4/20/2023)
In the Media
Press release: Afghan People Seeking Asylum Reach Landmark Settlement with U.S. Government in Class Action (September 2023)
Press release: Afghan People Seeking Asylum File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Government Adjudication Delays (April 2023)
Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago-area asylum seekers who fled Afghanistan file federal lawsuit as their immigration status remains in limbo (April 2023)