FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2022
Court Strikes Down Trump Rules Blocking Access to Work Permits for Asylum Seekers
Washington – This week a federal court struck down two Trump-era rules that had restricted – and in some cases eliminated – access to work permits for people seeking asylum. In late 2020 nearly 20 asylum seekers joined a group of immigrant rights organizations in suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to challenge these rules. The asylum seekers included transgender women, parents with small children, and children and adults fleeing political persecution, gender-based violence, and gang violence.
The National Immigrant Justice Center, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Kids in Need of Defense, and Tahirih Justice Center represented the asylum seekers, along with organizational plaintiffs AsylumWorks, Tahirih Justice Center, and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.
Trump’s work authorization rules took effect in August 2020 and were partially enjoined by a different court in September 2020, but that decision left many of the rules’ harmful provisions in place. After taking office the Biden administration dragged its feet, arguing that the rules should remain in place “for the time being” to allow “developing administrative actions” to resolve the case. On top of that, the Biden administration insisted on defending the legality of these rules in court, argued that Trump appointee Chad Wolf had lawful authority to enact them, and even had DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attempt to ratify one of the rules.
The D.C. District Court refused to entertain the administration’s delay requests and followed numerous other courts in finding Chad Wolf’s tenure as Acting DHS Secretary unlawful. The court concluded that because Wolf lacked the legal authority to issue regulations the work authorization rules were invalid.
“The court’s decision to remove barriers that prevented or delayed access to work permits for asylum-seekers not only provides the possibility to work, but it also provides security and a sense of belonging,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity, Campaign Manager. “I spent a decade with a ‘work authorization’ during my childhood and adolescent years, as my only form of photo ID. I cannot express how vital it was for my sense of belonging.”
“My family and I are thankful for this decision because it ensures that all asylum seekers are able to obtain work permits,” said Biraj Nepal, an asylum seeker and member of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), a membership organization of asylum seekers. “I know from experience how important it is to receive a work permit as quickly as possible. Having a work permit allows me to provide for myself, my wife, our four year old daughter, and the child we have on the way and we are grateful that this decision will provide other asylum seekers the opportunity to receive work permits. We are still fighting for work permits to be faster, to be valid for longer, and to make sure no asylum seekers lose their jobs because of delays – but this is an important step in the right direction!”
“The ability to earn an income is critical to asylum seekers’ ability to survive in the United States as they pursue protection from persecution,” said Keren Zwick, director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “The court’s decision recognizes that the government cannot neglect to fill a cabinet position with a Senate-approved candidate for 665 days and then rely on unvetted, temporary officials to strip asylum seekers of access to a livelihood in the United States.”
“The court got it right,” said Annie Daher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “People seeking asylum should be treated with dignity and fairness as they pursue their legal claims. Access to work permits allows asylum seekers to provide for their families, obtain vital legal representation, and ultimately find safety and security in the United States. This ruling will make a life-saving difference for our plaintiffs and for all people who turn to this country for refuge.”
“Children seeking asylum often need a USCIS-issued ‘employment authorization’ document as their only form of photo ID, to access education and other services critical to their stability and well-being during the asylum process,” said Scott Shuchart, senior director, legal strategy, at Kids in Need of Defense and co-counsel in the lawsuit. “The court correctly restored access to these important documents for, potentially, thousands of unaccompanied children who will now have the opportunity to build a more secure life in the United States as they pursue lifesaving protection.”
“The right to work is an essential component of humanitarian protection,” said Joan Hodges-Wu, executive director and founder of AsylumWorks, which was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Work is not only imperative to economic survival; it also represents a means for asylum seekers to maintain personal dignity and self-respect during the long and protracted legal process. The court took a critical step toward upholding the rights of asylum seekers by vacating illegally-issued rules created to deter individuals and families seeking safety from harm. We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to continuing our work to help asylum seekers prepare for and retain safe, legal, and purposeful employment.”
“This decision restores the critical ability of countless survivors of gender-based violence to work, and thus be independent and provide for their families, while their asylum applications are pending—a process that often takes many years,” said Richard Caldarone, senior litigation counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center, which was co-counsel and an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It also makes clear that the government remains obligated to promptly decide survivors’ requests for work authorization rather than leaving them in bureaucratic limbo for months or years. The decision takes arbitrary and punitive restrictions on work permanently off the books. We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to its immediate implementation.”
“We are thrilled that our motion for summary judgment was granted. This decision will have an enormous impact on our clients and so many other asylum seekers who come to this country seeking safety and justice,” said Cristina Dos Santos, the Immigration Program director at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, which was an organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The Trump-era rules were punitive and cruel to asylum seekers, preventing them from receiving the right to work, potentially for years, as they waited to have their cases heard in our backlogged immigration court system. We have seen first hand how these policies forced asylum seekers and their families into poverty and destitution. A resolution was urgently needed. We applaud the court’s decision.”
“The D.C. District Court has joined a chorus of judges concluding that Trump-era bureaucrats did not have authority to act as Secretary of DHS, and held as a consequence that these Trump-era rules are unlawful,” said Linda Evarts, Senior Supervising Attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), and counsel in another case challenging the rules restricting access to work permits. “We look forward to a decision on our pending motion for summary judgment seeking similar relief.”
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The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign is composed of more than 95 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org