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Kirkland & Ellis LLP and NIJC represent class action of people facing prolonged waits for permanent immigration protection following 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan

Afghan people seeking asylum are suing the U.S. government over delays in processing their asylum applications, nearly two years after they first arrived in the United States as part of a U.S. operation to evacuate allies who faced threats of persecution as the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan.

The plaintiffs in Ahmed v. Department of Homeland Security include people who worked for U.S. agencies in Kabul, women’s rights advocates, a healthcare worker, a teacher, and a journalist. Their temporary immigration status in the United States is set to expire in less than five months. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges the failure of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to adjudicate the asylum applications filed by seven plaintiffs, and thousands of other Afghan people resettled in the United States, within the 150-day deadline set by Congress.

The plaintiffs ask the court to order DHS and USCIS to decide all overdue Afghan asylum adjudications within 30 days and to abide by the 150-day deadline in the future.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP Litigation Partner Mike Williams, who is working on this pro bono case, said: “This is a case about broken promises and broken trust, but also about the United States breaking its own laws. That is why we are asking the Court to require the United States to keep its promises to these Afghan people seeking asylum. These asylum applicants are among the most vulnerable to come to our country, and they should not be in legal limbo.”

National Immigrant Justice Center Attorney Richard Caldarone, who is co-counsel in the case, said: “USCIS’s systematic failure to decide asylum applications for Afghan people in the timeline set by Congress is inexcusable. For thousands of people — particularly those who had to leave family behind in Afghanistan — USCIS’s delays compound the trauma of Taliban threats and violence. Afghan people were forced to flee their homes and their country because they worked for liberty, equality, and democracy; they deserve better.”

The plaintiffs came to the United States in August 2021 as part of the U.S. government’s Operation Allies Welcome, which allowed Afghan people who passed stringent security and background checks to resettle in the United States and receive two years of humanitarian parole while they applied for more permanent immigration status. Additionally, Congress passed legislation requiring DHS and USCIS to “expeditiously adjudicate” asylum applications within 150 days for Afghan people who were resettled under the operation.

But DHS and USCIS have adjudicated just 11 percent of the roughly 16,000 asylum applications filed by Afghan people evacuated to the United States. Thousands of applications have been pending well past the 150-day adjudication deadline, and many people will see their temporary parole status expire in August 2023. The safety of those who applied for asylum remains in limbo, and their spouses and children trapped in Afghanistan continue to live under constant threats of danger.