Kirkland and NIJC represent pro bono a class comprised of people facing prolonged delays for permanent immigration protection following the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
A new nationwide settlement will help approximately 20,000 Afghan people seeking asylum in the United States after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. It is one of the largest asylum adjudication class action settlements in U.S. history.
Lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis and the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) reached an agreement with the U.S. government on September 6, 2023, after seeking a nationwide injunction on behalf of Afghan asylum applicants who are still waiting for decision nearly two years after they first arrived in the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome — a U.S. operation to evacuate allies who faced threats of persecution as the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan. The settlement agreement must still be approved by the Honorable Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to take effect.
With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. government committed to expedite asylum decisions for Afghan people who were fleeing to the United States. When the U.S. government fell behind on that commitment, Kirkland & Ellis and NIJC represented a class suing the U.S. government over delays in processing their asylum applications. The U.S. government had committed to making asylum decisions within 150 days of filing, but thousands of Afghan people were still waiting for an asylum decision well past that deadline. Many of them have spouses and children trapped in Afghanistan, where they are living under constant threat of danger.
The plaintiffs in Ahmed v. DHS, case no. 4:23-CV-01892, include people who worked for U.S. agencies in Kabul, women’s rights advocates, a healthcare worker, a teacher, and a journalist. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges the systematic 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 asylum applicants like them, within the 150-day deadline set by Congress.
“I always trusted the U.S. government, but this situation has hurt so many people seeking permanent relief,” said Mursal Sadat, a representative of the class. “I am very happy that we have reached a settlement that will change this situation, so that asylum seekers can restart and rebuild their lives. I may have received asylum since this lawsuit was filed, but I worry about the many others who have not been as lucky.”
The settlement has the following stipulations:
- Defendants will adjudicate 50% of Afghan asylum applications, filed on or before June 3, 2023, by October 31, 2023. 85% of them must be applications that were pending longer than 150 days.
- Defendants will adjudicate 65% of Afghan asylum applications, filed on or before August 3, 2023, by December 31, 2023. 85% of them must be applications that were pending longer than 150 days.
- Defendants will adjudicate 90% of Afghan asylum applications, filed on or before December 2, 2023, by April 30, 2024. 85% of them must be applications that were pending longer than 150 days.
- Defendants will adjudicate 90% of Afghan asylum applications, filed on or before February 1, 2024, and that were pending longer than 150 days, by June 30, 2024.
- Defendants will adjudicate at least 90% of Afghan asylum applications, that were filed on or after February 2, 2024, no later than 150 days after the date of filing.
- Every 30 days, Defendants will file public status reports containing certain information regarding the adjudication of Afghan asylum applications with the Court and on the USCIS website. To demonstrate compliance with the above-mentioned deadlines, Defendants will file additional deadline reports with the Court and on the USCIS website.
Kirkland litigation partner Mike Williams, who is working on this pro bono case, said: “This settlement is an important first step by the United States toward fulfilling the promise of Operation Allies Welcome. The Afghan people who fled to the United States had been stuck in a state of limbo. This settlement will help bring certainty and stability as they move forward with their new lives. It has been an honor for the Firm to represent these Afghan people in their efforts to hold the U.S. government to its promises.”
NIJC senior litigation attorney Richard Caldarone, who is co-counsel in the case, said: “The U.S. government rightly promised that people who worked to support human rights and build democracy in Afghanistan could resettle in the United States. The settlement ensures that the government will fulfill that promise to tens of thousands of our allies.”