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Escutia v. Reno: Settlement preliminarily approved


Escutia v. Reno: Settlement in family unity class action preliminarily approved
Immigrants' Rights Update, Vol. 16, No. 5, September 10, 2002

The plaintiffs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have settled a class action lawsuit that challenged the agency's failure to timely adjudicate applications for Family Unity status and related requests for employment authorization. The settlement applies only to cases filed with or transferred to the INS California Service Center. Under its terms, the INS will dedicate at least a set amount of resources to processing initial Family Unity applications, as long as a backlog exists, and will issue employment authorization to applicants for renewal of family unity status within 90 days of the date on which they apply for renewal. The federal district court in Santa Ana, California preliminarily approved the settlement on Aug. 26, 2002, and set a fairness hearing to take place on Oct. 28, 2002.

Enacted as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the Family Unity program allows the spouses and children of permanent residents who legalized through the 1986 amnesty program to remain and work in the U.S. This relief is mandatory under the statute; the INS may not deport persons who are eligible for Family Unity and must grant them employment authorization. The INS decided to implement the statute by granting voluntary departure and work authorization to eligible individuals in two-year increments.

The suit charged that the INS is refusing to process Family Unity and employment authorization applications. At the time the suit was filed, in August 2002, many applicants at the INS California Service Center had been waiting more than two years for the INS to issue what should be routine approvals. During the course of settlement discussions in the case, the INS significantly reduced this backlog.

The plaintiffs are represented by the American Immigration Law Foundation, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and NILC. Interested parties may obtain copies of the settlement agreement by contacting NILC or logging on to NILC's website ( A copy of the Notice to Class, which contains a summary of the agreement and explains the procedures that class members may use should they object to the settlement, is also available on the NILC website. Any objections must be postmarked by Oct. 7, 2002.

Escutia, et al. v. Reno, No. SA CV 00-841 AHS (C.D.Cal., filed Aug. 25, 2000).