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Escutia v. Reno: Court gives approval to settlement

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Escutia v. Reno: Court gives final approval to settlement in family unity class action
Immigrants' Rights Update, Vol. 16, No. 7, November 22, 2002

The federal district court in Santa Ana, California has given final approval to the settlement in Escutia v. Ashcroft, a class action lawsuit that challenged the failure of the Immigration and Naturalization Service 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.

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 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 was 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. The settlement was approved and took effect on October 28, 2002.

Escutia, et al. v. Reno, No. SA CV 00-841 AHS (C.D.Cal., settlement approved, Oct. 28, 2002).