Firm Secures Important Victory for Refugees

Court finds in favor of our pro bono clients, members of a religious minority from Iran seeking asylum in the US.

July 12, 2018

A Latham team working with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center secured an important victory for persecuted religious minorities from Iran seeking refuge in the United States.

The US District Court for the Northern District of California sided with plaintiffs in Doe v. Nielsen, which challenges the mass denials of Iranian religious minority refugees who abandoned their homes in Iran and traveled to Vienna at the invitation of the US government to complete processing of their refugee applications under the Lautenberg Amendment. These denials left the refugee applicants stranded in Vienna with uncertain futures. The Court’s decision orders the government to disclose individualized reasons for the mass denials to allow plaintiffs to meaningfully request government review of these denials.

The Lautenberg Amendment has facilitated the refugee admission of certain vulnerable groups since its passage in 1989, and persecuted religious minorities from Iran became eligible for the amendment’s protections in 2004. Under this program, which operates through Vienna, as the US does not have an embassy in Iran, US residents submit an application on behalf of qualified refugee applicants in Iran. Applicants must then pass an initial screening and, if successful, travel to Austria to continue the processing of their application to the United States.

The program was historically successful, with nearly 100% of the applicants being processed in a few months in Austria and resettling in the United States. However, in February 2018, nearly 90 Iranian Christians, Mandeans, and other religious minorities who had already traveled to Vienna, many of whom had been waiting for nearly a year, received notices of denial that stated only that they were being denied “as a matter of discretion.” Each applicant was at risk of deportation back to Iran because of the denial, and this decision ensures that they have the best opportunity possible to reunite with family members and safely practice their religious beliefs in the United States.

The Court also granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and approved Latham and IRAP as class counsel for a class consisting of the Iranian applicants and their US family members who sponsored their applications. 

Led by San Francisco partner Belinda Lee, the Latham team includes Century City associates Ollie Rocos and Thomas Golding, and San Francisco associate Ariel Rogers.

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