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Press Release: Federal Court Rules in Favor of Iraqi and Afghan Allies Suing U.S. Government Over Failure to Act on Visa Applications



Decision reaffirms Government’s obligations to thousands of U.S. allies trapped in life-threatening circumstances as a result of their service

Washington, D.C., February 16, 2016 – In a landmark ruling that could affect thousands of Afghan and Iraqi allies who risked their lives supporting U.S. troops, a federal district court in Washington D.C. has denied the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to have the U.S. Government act on long-delayed visa applications of Iraqis and Afghans who worked to support U.S. troops, including as interpreters, and often under fire.[1]

Through the bipartisan Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act (RCIA) of 2007 and Afghan Allies Protection Act (AAPA) of 2009, the U.S. Congress made Iraqis and Afghans under threat because of their service to the United States eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). Recognizing the danger faced by the United States’ Iraqi and Afghan allies, Congress directed the Departments of State and Homeland Security to complete processing of such applications within no more than nine months, absent exceptional circumstances. The nine Plaintiffs currently participating in the lawsuit have been trapped in Iraq or Afghanistan while waiting for the U.S. Government to act on their applications for between one and-a-half to more than six years.

Plaintiffs, in their submissions to the Court, described multiple assassination attempts and a steady barrage of death threats, including from ISIS and the Taliban. All fear being recognized as individuals who supported the U.S. and its troops. Despite provisions of the RCIA and AAPA requiring the Department of State to make a “reasonable effort” to protect SIV applicants, IRAP is unaware of a single SIV applicant receiving protection from the U.S. Government.

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) first filed suit against the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security in February of 2015. On behalf of plaintiffs, it alleged that the Government failed to act diligently on Plaintiffs’ SIV applications, contrary to Congress’s direction.

Notwithstanding Plaintiffs’ past service to the United States, the Department of Justice moved to dismiss the case against both Defendants in early September 2015. It argued that the Departments of State and Homeland Security enjoyed unlimited discretion over SIV processing and that the court could not enforce Congress’s instruction to process SIVs within nine months.

In a 67-page decision, Senior United States District Judge Gladys Kessler resoundingly rejected the Government’s position. She affirmed the Court’s authority to hold the Government accountable for its failure to take timely action on the Plaintiffs’ visa applications, holding both that “adjudication of Plaintiffs’ SIV applications within a reasonable time is non-discretionary” and that “judicially manageable standards exist to measure the Government’s performance of its duty.”[2]

“Our clients and their families are in danger because they had the courage to provide vital support to U.S. servicemen and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Mark Doss, a Staff Attorney at IRAP. “Judge Kessler’s ruling is an important step towards having the Departments of State and Homeland Security carry out Congress’s mandate to make timely decisions for our plaintiffs and provide refuge to our country’s vulnerable Iraqi and Afghan allies. We are honored to represent individuals who took enormous risks to support U.S. troops. Although we are delighted with the Court’s ruling, our clients are still in Iraq and Afghanistan and still in danger. We hope that the Department of State will act promptly on our clients’ visa applications.”

The parties will appear for a status conference before Judge Kessler on February 22, 2016. IRAP looks forward to continuing its representation until all of the Plaintiffs have received final decisions on their SIV applications.




Catherine Crooke



Further Notes


  • The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a system of legal and human rights for refugees, through a combination of direct legal aid and systemic advocacy.
  • IRAP has safely resettled over 3,000 refugees – with an 85% success rate – over the past six years.
  • IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation and protection to persecuted refugees in the Middle East and North Africa who seek to begin safe, new lives in the West.
  • IRAP was founded as an extracurricular organization in 2008 by five Yale Law School students: one was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghan Wars; another was a Washington Post journalist who had reported from Iraq; three others had worked with refugees.
  • IRAP provides pro bono legal aid to refugees through a model that pairs more than 1,000 law students from 26 law schools chapters with supervising attorneys from over 60 international law firms and 5 in-house corporate counsels.
  • IRAP has worked with Congress to obtain an additional 13,500 visas for Iraqis and Afghans who aided the United States.
  • IRAP’s additional policy advocacy efforts have made the American refugee admissions process more fair and equitable for over 120,000 refugee applicants to the United States.

[1] See Nine Iraqi Allies Under Serious Threat Because Of Their Faithful Service to the United States v. Kerry, et al., No. 15-cv-300 (GK), 2016 WL 356022 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2016) (“Memorandum Opinion”). The district court’s decision is available here: Motion to Dismiss Decision – Jan 28 2016.

[2] Memorandum Opinion at 59.