Legal victory for asylum seekers

Apr 15, 2013

The settlement of a class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of asylum seekers, should make it easier for people to work in the U.S. while for their asylum petition to be acted on.

The problem has been with something called the “asylum clock.” The clock is actually a complicated formula the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies use to decide when someone is allowed to legally begin working in the United States. Theoretically, it’s supposed to be around six months. But, according to the court case, it stretches into years.

Attorney Emily Creighton with the American Immigration Council describes the case of a Seattle woman who fled India and sought asylum in the U.S. The woman said she faced persecution because of her religious beliefs. It took nine years for the case to work its way through the court system.

"She never got employment authorization. For all those years, she was not able to actually work and to support herself and her family," Creighton said.

The delay held her back despite her training in fashion merchandising and culinary arts and being offered jobs in those fields. Under an agreement signed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, steps will be taken to ensure that future asylum seekers won’t face the same fate when it comes to being able to get a job.

The agreement will also require immigration judges to make it clear when a work authorization has been delayed.

The settlement agreement still has to be approved by Judge Richard Jones in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Jones is the federal judge overseeing the case.