FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2021
U.S. TO REOPEN REFUGEE APPLICATIONS OF IRANIAN RELIGIOUS MINORITIES MASS DENIED UNDER UNFAIR “EXTREME VETTING”
Groups Applaud Settlement Agreement in Doe v. Mayorkas
(San Jose, CA) – Today, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and Latham & Watkins LLP announced a settlement in Doe v. Mayorkas, a 2018 class action lawsuit challenging the mass denial of the refugee applications of dozens of Iranians of persecuted minority faiths in the Lautenberg-Specter Program. In February 2018, nearly 90 Iranians who had traveled to Austria to complete processing in the historically successful program received denials of their refugee applications and were left stranded away from their families in the United States as a result of “extreme vetting” techniques connected to the U.S. government’s reliance on controversial mass surveillance methods.
Under the proposed settlement, class members will have their refugee applications reopened and assessed under fair security vetting procedures, and the U.S. government will make best efforts to re-process those applications within three months. The settlement must be approved by the judge before it takes effect.
Plaintiff in the case, Doe 6, said, “I am hopeful that, after many painful years of being stranded in Vienna, the settlement agreement will give us a new chance to be together with our family in the United States. My husband, daughter, and I want to be reunited with my aging parents in the United States. I am their only child and we want to take care of each other and practice our faith together free from discrimination.”
Plaintiff in the case, Doe 7, said, “I sponsored my aunt and her family’s applications to come to the United States and have been waiting over five years for the call to pick them up from the airport in Texas. We have been hurt by this unfair process that left my family stranded in Vienna for so long, and I hope that now our years of forced separation can come to an end.”
During discovery for the case, IRAP learned the FBI has been using a discredited dragnet vetting technique to reject refugees from a list of predominantly Muslim-majority countries, leading to a steep, unfair increase in denials. Plaintiffs believe this technique involved automatically denying refugee applications of any refugee whose communications records matched with those in the government’s vast bulk communications database, even though the database includes records of entirely innocent people caught up in the U.S. government’s mass surveillance capacities.
IRAP Staff Attorney, Kate Meyer, said, “We are thrilled that this settlement will give our clients a meaningful opportunity to reunite with their family members in the United States after years of hardship. This case illustrates the harmful, unfair consequences of ‘extreme vetting’ of refugees and the U.S. government’s use of mass surveillance. The fight to ensure no refugees are denied safety due to discredited dragnet vetting is not over, but today’s settlement is an important step to ensure that our clients’ refugee applications are reevaluated under fair standards.”
Latham & Watkins Partner, Belinda Lee, said, “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.”