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AsylumWorks v. Wolf

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Case Status: 
Issue Area: 

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-03815

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it? 

The Trump administration promulgated new rules that drastically curtail access to work authorization for people who flee to the United States and apply for asylum protection. Employment authorization documents (EADs) are integral to asylum seekers’ ability to sustain themselves and their families pending the adjudication of their cases, which can take years as a result of current backlogs in the immigration courts. In many states, work permits are the only identification documentation asylum seekers can receive until they are granted protection.

These new rules removed the prior 30-day deadline for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to adjudicate initial EAD applications and erected significant new barriers to obtaining employment authorization, including new outright bars on eligibility.

Advocates previously challenged these rules in the District Court of Maryland in Casa de Maryland v. Wolf, Case No. 8:20-cv-02118 (D.D.C.), obtaining a preliminary injunction which prevented USCIS from applying a subset of the new EAD rules’ provisions to members of Casa de Maryland, Inc. (CASA) and Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP). The challenge we have filed builds upon that case and seeks to prevent the application of any part of the new EAD rules to any asylum seeker.

What is at stake? 

Work authorization is necessary for the health, safety, and well-being of all asylum seekers in the United States, since individuals who cannot legally work cannot support themselves and their families, let alone obtain and assist with their legal representation. The individual plaintiffs in AsylumWorks v. Wolf are asylum seekers, including transgender women and parents with small children, who are prevented under the new rules from receiving EADs. The organizational plaintiffs in this case—AsylumWorks, Tahirih Justice Center, and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto—are groups that are impeded from providing employment assistance and legal and social services to asylum seekers as a result of the new rules.

What’s the status of this case? 

On February 8, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the new EAD rules were illegally issued and are therefore invalid. The rules had been partially enjoined by a different court in September 2020, but that decision left many of the rules’ harmful provisions in place. Despite these ongoing harms and despite a change in administration, the government dragged its feet, arguing that the rules should remain in place “for the time being” to allow “developing administrative actions” to resolve the case.

The D.C. District Court refused to entertain these delay requests, and rejected the government’s “interpretative acrobatics” to justify Mr. Wolf’s purported authority to engage in rulemaking. Instead, the court followed numerous other courts around the country and concluded that “Wolf’s ascension to the office of Acting Secretary was unlawful.” The court also rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to ratify one of the rules in question, reasoning that the ratification “did not cure the defects ... caused by Wolf’s unlawful tenure as Acting Secretary.”

Who’s involved? 

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Tahirih Justice Center, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP.

How can you help? 

Take the #WelcomeWithDignity pledge and join our movement to defend the right to seek asylum. You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information? 

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Manager, at krongbrianna@uclawsf.edu.

Resources for Advocates 

CGRS has produced several resources to support attorneys representing clients impacted by the new EAD rules. Click here to request materials relevant to your client’s case.

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