American Immigration Council

Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council is a non-profit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy, advocate for the fair and just administration of our immigration laws, protect the legal rights of noncitizens, and educate the public about the enduring contributions of America's immigrants.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a non-profit organization established in 1980 to protect, defend, and expand the rights of immigrants in the United States. Marking its 45th anniversary year in 2016, NIPNLG works to promote fairness, dignity, and equality for all immigrants under the law.

The Immigration Council and NIPNLG litigate targeted issues in immigration cases likely to have significant impact. Past collaborations between the Council and NIPNLG, together with our allies, have resulted in the following litigation accomplishments:

THE CASE: Under the law, an asylum-seeker must apply for asylum within one year of arrival in the United States. Failure to apply on time generally results in losing the opportunity to seek asylum, with the resulting risk of erroneous deportation to the country from which the person fled. However, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents do not provide notice of the one-year filing deadline to individuals who, upon apprehension, express a fear of persecution. Too many individuals miss the one-year filing deadline simply because they were never informed about it.

Additionally, individuals who attempt to file timely applications regularly are prevented from doing so due to agency-imposed obstacles. Asylum-seekers who are not in removal proceedings must file their applications with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of DHS; those in removal proceedings must file with the immigration court (which falls within the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR). Because there is no consistent nationwide guidance, both USCIS and EOIR often reject applications, each claiming that the other agency has jurisdiction. The applicant is left in a "catch 22," unable to file with either. Even where it is clear that an individual is in removal proceedings, EOIR policies-which, at the time that the suit was filed, included a requirement that an applicant file an asylum application in open court-often prevent timely filing. Because all immigration courts are extremely backlogged, the initial hearing in many cases does not take place until more than a year after the asylum seeker arrived in the United States. Without the systemic relief sought in this lawsuit, thousands of asylum-seekers are at risk of being returned to the countries from which they fled without ever having their asylum claims considered.

Filed in June 2016, Mendez-Rojas v. Johnson, No. 16-01024 (W.D. Wash.), seeks timely notice of the one-year filing deadline and a mechanism—to be applied uniformly across the country-that guarantees an asylum seeker the opportunity to file an application within one year of entry. Since the lawsuit was filed, the immigration courts have announced they will take steps to resolve some of the issues raised in the lawsuit by accepting asylum applications by mail or at the court window (as opposed to only accepting them at a hearing in open court). However, the remaining claims in the suit remain unresolved.

Defendants are the Attorney General, EOIR, DHS, and its components, USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition to the Council and NIPNLG, Plaintiffs are represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and a small immigration law firm, Dobrin & Han.

Contact Persons: 
Melissa Crow, Legal Director, American Immigration Council, mcrow@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7523 
Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney, American Immigration Council, mkenney@immcouncil.org, 202-507-7512 
Trina Realmuto, Litigation Director, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, trina@nipnlg.org, 617-227-9727 ext. 8