Judge Orders USCIS to Issue Green Cards

By: Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Juliana L. Butler

On August 24, 2005, a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue green cards to thousands of people granted lawful permanent resident status by an Immigration Judge. Many have waited nearly five years for DHS to issue their green cards.

DHS justified the delay based on their policy that additional background checks were necessary for national security after the September 11, 2001 attacks. However, the federal court did not believe this and instead blamed the delay on “gaping holes” in DHS’s system.

Lawful permanent residents are required to carry proof of their status with them at all times. They are also not authorized to obtain employment without presenting their green cards. DHS’s failure to issue green cards in a timely manner kept thousands of lawful permanent residents from proving their status to employers and schools and from visiting their families abroad. In many cases, failure to issue the green cards was due to DHS’s lack of responsiveness, inefficiency, and misrouted files.

In Santillan v. Gonzalez, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel disagreed and found DHS’s policy of withholding documentation from lawful permanent residents to be “arbitrary and capricious.” The federal court noted that DHS was “unable or unwilling to identify a single [lawful permanent resident] who has been identified as a possible national security threat, much less one who has been detained or deported as a result of security concerns.”

DHS admitted that as many as 12,539 lawful permanent residents since October 1, 2000 had not received their green cards. Again, DHS justified the delay due to their policy of conducting background checks. However, the background checks in question usually take no more than 48 hours to complete. To the federal court, this was not a reasonable justification for prolonged delays in the security checking process.

“Where the failure to present documentation precludes lawful employment and obtaining certain state benefits, the effect on the welfare of plaintiffs is obvious and undisputed.” Therefore, the federal court found the delay to be unreasonable and ordered DHS to present a proposal for timely issuing the green cards.

As part of this ruling, the federal court is seeking the names and contact information of those persons granted lawful permanent resident status by an Immigration Judge after April 1, 2005 who have not received their green cards. If you believe you or a member of your family to be affected, contact us for a consultation to determine whether you are a qualified class member.