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Feds Meet Court-Ordered Quota For Afghan Asylum Applications

In this article from Law360, partner Mike Williams was quoted discussing the U.S. government meeting its 2023 settlement requirements to adjudicate at least 65 percent of Afghan asylum applications that have been pending since August. Partner Edward Hillenbrand and associates Joseph D'Antonio, Morgan Lily Phoenix, Michael Quinn and Sanjay Nevrekar were also highlighted.

Attorneys who sued the government over delays in processing asylum claims for Afghans fleeing the Taliban's rule said the Biden administration has met its obligations under a settlement agreement to process at least 65% of the applications pending since August.

The government was able to process 67% of those applications, 94% of which had been pending for more than 150 days, according to an announcement Tuesday from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which represented the Afghan plaintiffs pro bono alongside the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The Biden administration and the Afghan plaintiffs settled the suit in September, which they brought in April to press the government to comply with a 150-day mandatory deadline to process asylum claims from Afghans fleeing renewed Taliban rule. The Afghans were invited to the U.S. in 2021 under the Operation Allies Welcome expedited resettlement program after the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan.

The deal required the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adjudicate 50% of the applications filed before June 3 by the end of October. The agencies further agreed to process 65% of applications that were filed before Aug. 3 by the end of 2023, and to ensure at least 85% of those had been pending for more than 150 days.

The DHS and USCIS informed the court in a Jan. 16 report that they had met their obligations.

Kirkland attorney Michael Williams told Law360 on Wednesday that the legal team was "pleased and surprised" the agencies were able to fulfill their settlement obligations given the enormous strain on the immigration system and at the southern border.

But he said it was important to hold the government accountable for promises it made to Afghans, whom he described as "really worthy plaintiffs."

"These are people who the United States invited, people who the United States promised that they could have a better life given the conditions in Afghanistan, and given the United States involvement there. So for the USCIS to follow through on their promise, that really means the world at this point," Williams said in an interview.

Williams said the government's progress in processing the asylum applications affirms that pursuing a settlement in the case was the right course of action for his clients, because they will no longer be living in limbo with an uncertain immigration status.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The seven Afghan plaintiffs — identified only as Ahmed, Abdul, Amir, Siddiqa, Rahmatullah, Fatima and Mursal Sadat — filed the suit five months before their temporary immigration status was set to expire, contending that the federal government had only processed 11% of the asylum applications submitted under Operation Allies Welcome.

The plaintiffs said the processing delays were prohibiting them from bringing their spouses and children to the U.S. from Afghanistan, where they too were facing ongoing and serious danger from the Taliban.

The Taliban had already searched the current and former homes of spouses and children of two of the seven Afghans, according to their complaint.

Another plaintiff's uncle was captured and imprisoned by the Taliban in April 2022 in retaliation for the plaintiff's work as a "public doctor" and for being affiliated with the U.S. military.

The class is represented by Michael F. Williams, Edward S. Hillenbrand, Joseph D'Antonio, Morgan Lily Phoenix, Michael P. Quinn and Sanjay Nevrekar of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Richard Caldarone, Keren Zwick and Colleen Cowgill of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The government is represented by Ruth Ann Mueller, Alexander J. Halaska and Richard Gordon Winstead Ingebretsen of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division.

The case is Ahmed et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, case number 4:23-cv-01892, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.