US Court finds in favour of Iranian refugees unlawfully denied resettlement

San Jose, California, 11th July 2018: the US District Court for the Northern District of California has sided with plaintiffs in Doe v. Nielsen, which challenges the mass denial of status to Iranian religious minority refugees who travelled to Vienna at the invitation of the US government under the Lautenberg Amendment. The denials left the applicants stranded in Vienna with uncertain futures. The Court’s decision orders the government to disclose individual reasons for the mass denials to allow plaintiffs meaningfully to request a review of their case and to reopen and process any cases where the denial was baseless.

The plaintiffs were represented by SRT grantee the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Latham Watkins LLP.

The Lautenberg Amendment facilitates the admission as refugees to the US of certain vulnerable groups, and persecuted religious minorities from Iran became eligible in 2004. Under this programme, 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.

The programme was historically successful, with nearly 100% of the applicants resettling in the US. However, in February 2018, nearly 90 Iranian Christians, Mandeans, and other religious minorities who had already travelled to Austria received notices of denial that stated only that they were being denied ‘as a matter of discretion’. Many of them had been waiting for nearly a year in the hope that they would be able to reunite with family members and safely practice their religious beliefs in the US.

In the Court order, Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote, ‘[The Department of Homeland Security] retains an enormous amount of authority and discretion to adjudicate refugee applications, but they do not have the discretion to violate the law’.

Mariko Hirose, Litigation Director of IRAP, said, ‘We are heartened that the Court recognized that the government cannot simply violate the explicit, heightened protections that Congress gave to this group of refugees.’

Full press release from IRAP’s website:

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