By Karolina Walters, Immigration Impact
Immigration law requires that asylum seekers file applications for asylum within one year of last entering the United States. Filing after one year can be the sole reason the U.S. government denies an asylum application. Despite these serious consequences, until recently, officials did not always tell asylum seekers of this deadline.
Thanks to a final settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit, some asylum seekers can access relief for the government’s failure to notify them of the one-year filing requirement in the past. But the deadline to apply for this relief is fast approaching: April 22, 2022.
Following judgment by a federal court in Mendez Rojas v. Johnson, the U.S. government agreed to start providing notice of the one-year deadline in a revised notice document: Form I-862 (Notice to Appear). The government also agreed to create a new uniform mechanism that instructs government agencies how to process asylum applications so that they can be filed within the one-year deadline. The American Immigration Council, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Dobrin & Han, PC, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed the Mendez Rojas lawsuit.
But this new notice and mechanism do not help those asylum seekers who were harmed by the government’s past unlawful conduct. For that reason, the final settlement agreement also included relief for those who could establish that they were members of a specific group of asylum seekers—Mendez Rojas class members—who had not received notice of the one-year deadline. These asylum seekers could have either filed their asylum applications after the deadline or had been in the United States longer than one year and still not filed their applications.
Specifically, the government agreed to treat as timely filed an asylum application from someone who could establish that they were a Mendez Rojas class member, if the asylum application was filed on or by April 22, 2022.
Eligible asylum seekers who did not receive notice of the one-year deadline and did not file their asylum applications in time can now have their asylum claim decided on the merit of the claim—as it should be—and not based on a technical deficiency.
In 2018, in Mendez Rojas, a federal court found that the U.S. government violated immigration law and constitutional protections of due process by not notifying certain asylum seekers in government custody shortly after entering the United States about the one-year deadline. The court also found that the government violated immigration law by not having a uniform mechanism in place that would instruct government agencies on how to process asylum applications so that they could be filed within the one-year deadline.
In November 2020, the parties reached a settlement agreement on how the court’s order would be operationalized. Part of this agreement is that all claims for relief for past harm must be filed by Friday, April 22, 2022.
Importantly, not all asylum seekers who did not receive notice of the one-year filing deadline are eligible for relief under Mendez Rojas. To qualify for relief, asylum seekers must be able to establish the elements of class membership and meet the eligibility requirements for relief.
But for the countless asylum seekers who are eligible for this relief of past harm, this litigation has affirmed the importance of a fair asylum process that does not allow technical deficiencies to prevent the full consideration of legitimate asylum claims.