Firm Secures Victory for Stranded Refugees

Pro bono clients now have a path to asylum in the US.

November 23, 2021

A Latham team working with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) has secured an important victory for persecuted religious minorities from Iran seeking refuge in the United States. Under the proposed settlement in Doe v. Mayorkas, class members will have their refugee applications reopened and assessed under fair security vetting procedures. In addition, the federal government will endeavor to re-process those applications within three months. The settlement must be approved by the judge before it takes effect.

In 2018, Latham and IRAP filed a class action lawsuit challenging the mass denial of the refugee applications of dozens of Iranians of persecuted minority faiths in the Lautenberg-Specter Program. 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, Austria, because 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 within 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. The settlement ensures that they have the best opportunity possible to reunite with family members and safely practice their religious beliefs in the United States.

“Not only does this settlement mark a tremendous, hard-fought win for our clients, but it also buttresses a congressionally enacted program that has, quite literally, saved lives. Truly, today’s settlement is a win for the rule of law,” said Bay Area partner Belinda Lee, who leads the Latham team, along with Century City associates Keith Williams and Devon Diggs. Bay Area associate Caroline Esser and former associate Katherine Larkin-Wong also contributed to the favorable outcome. 

 
 
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