‘Has lost his driver’s license and his job’: USCIS faces lawsuit over months-long work permit delays

A class-action lawsuit filed by AIC, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), and Lakin & Wille LLP on behalf of five workers, notes the plaintiffs have either already lost their jobs—or were just days away from losing their jobs—due to USCIS’ delays. 

”Plaintiff Tony N., a truck driver who delivered personal protective equipment across the country during the pandemic, has lost his driver’s license and his job, and has seen his dreams of starting his own truck driving business indefinitely postponed,” documents said. A second plaintiff, Heghin Muradyan, is a physician who has lost two positions “caring for underserved populations, and as a result, she can no longer provide care to her patients or support herself and her young son.” 

Dr. Muradyan is an asylum-seeker originally from Armenia. She told The Washington Post earlier this month that past work permit renewals took about two to three months. But after submitting her renewal in April, she heard nothing from USCIS for months. “Requests to expedite processing were rejected twice, then ignored.” In October, her work permit expired. Without it, she cannot work and treat her patients legally.

“Sometimes, my colleagues call me asking like, ‘Okay, your patient came—what’s supposed to happen for her exactly?’” she told The Post. The lawsuit said that another plaintiff, Karen M., was among the workers set to lose their jobs. The lawsuit is dated Nov. 10, meaning she’s likely already lost her position. A manager at McDonald’s, Karen M. has three children and is expecting her fourth child next month.

“This loss of work authorization is occurring while the United States is facing a widespread national worker shortage,” AIC wrote in a blog post dated Nov. 12. “In August 2021, the U.S. Labor Department reported that there were 10.4 million job openings, whereas the number of individuals leaving employment rose to 4.3 million, the highest monthly level reported since December 2000. Leading economic experts have long maintained that authorizing immigrants, like asylum seekers, to work can play a critical role in ameliorating labor shortages.”

While USCIS finally has a Senate-confirmed director and saw that increase in naturalizations compared to the previous fiscal year, it has continued to experience service delays. Some related to pandemic measures, others due to being short-staffed, and of course not forgetting that the previous administration nearly shut down most of the agency. These issues have all had immense human costs. BuzzFeed News reported in August that some separated families reunited by the Biden administration have reported homelessness due to work permit delays. The month prior, tens of thousands of first-time Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants saw their paperwork halted, following an anti-immigrant judge’s ruling against the program.

That paperwork had been in limbo for months due to agency delays. If their paperwork had been processed sooner, they could have made it into the program before the judge’s decision.

“So what could USCIS do, while it rebuilds its staff?” Catherine Rampell wrote in The Post. “Eliminating some redundancies from the process is a good start. The agency could also automatically extend more existing work permits while applicants wait for their renewals to be processed.” This litigation highlights the urgent need to act as soon as possible before even more workers lose their jobs and livelihoods. Rampell noted in her column that due to residency program rules, Dr. Muradyan might have to repeat an entire year of training if she misses too much work. 

“These delays also affect a community for whom stability is critical,” AIC continued in the blog post. “For the plaintiffs, losing their work authorization has resulted in anxiety, loss of sleep, and depression, and has interrupted necessary treatment to address mental health challenges that are common for survivors of persecution. This is bureaucracy at its worst. We hope that USCIS reassesses its priorities to support asylum seekers and the U.S. economy.”

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