New Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of LPRs with Disabilities

New Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of LPRs with Disabilities

Press release from BIP member organization, Bronx Legal Services

New Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Lawful Permanent Residents Denied Opportunity to Become U.S. Citizens Because of Disabilities. 

December 7, 2017, NEW YORK, NY— Legal Services NYC’s Bronx program,Immigrant Justice CorpsAlaska Immigration Justice Project, and WilmerHale today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of nine Lawful Permanent Residents from New York, Massachusetts, and Alaska, who are statutorily eligible to apply for citizenship, but who have mental health or cognitive impairments which make it impossible for them to learn English and pass the English and civics tests ordinarily required to become U.S. citizens. The lawsuit was filed against the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Even though federal law exempts permanent residents with a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment from the English and civics requirements of naturalization, many naturalization applicants with disabilities are still subjected to the testing. To obtain a waiver, applicants can have a medical professional complete a form documenting the applicant’s disability or impairment.

Today’s action is necessary because USCIS representatives are routinely substituting their own judgment for the judgment of medical professionals, in violation of USCIS regulations. Stereotypes about individuals with disabilities often prejudice the evaluation of applicants’ waiver forms—for example, an officer may decide that an applicant is unable to learn a new language or new information due to lack of education rather than a disability, or simply refuse to believe that an applicant is disabled because the disability is not readily apparent. In other cases, waivers are rejected and applications denied simply because the applicant’s doctor is unable to explain the medical origin of diseases whose medical origin is unknown (such as Alzheimer’s Disease).

The defendants also routinely fail to provide applicants with meaningful notice of the reasons why their waivers have been denied. As a result, many applicants resubmit the forms at a second interview without knowing what was wrong with the original form. If the form is rejected again at the second interview, and the applicant again does not pass the English and civics test, their application for citizenship is denied.

“I want to become a citizen because I have learned that in this country, it is not sufficient to just be a resident,” said plaintiff Soraya Frances De Dandradethrough an interpreter. “The biggest frustration is being in front of an officer that has in front of him all my medical evidence showing that I’m unable [to take the exam], and have to see that they dismiss all the medical evidence. When I leave there I feel like I’m going to go crazy because I don’t understand, and I feel like my future is ending.”

"When people with disabilities are denied the opportunity to become citizens because they cannot pass the exams, and their waiver applications are improperly rejected, they are effectively being denied fundamental rights including the right to vote, denied eligibility for critical government benefits, and denied a sense of belonging in their adopted homeland,” said Isabel Heine, Staff Attorney at Bronx Legal Services. “This is a unique injustice that isn’t experienced by non-disabled applicants.”

Along with the individual clients, plaintiffs also include two non-profits: Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice in New York and Project Citizenship in Massachusetts. Both organizations provide assistance to permanent residents who are seeking to naturalize.

“Our clients and pro bono attorneys are frustrated by USCIS’s failure to defer to a doctor’s determination of disability,” said Veronica Serrato, Executive Director of Project Citizenship. “We are forced to expend additional, unnecessary resources to help clients seeking a waiver based upon their medical disability due to USCIS’s inconsistent, arbitrary procedures. The lack of fairness and uniformity of practice impedes our ability to achieve citizenship for disabled clients who, without a medical disability waiver, have no path to citizenship. USCIS’s practices cause stress, anxiety, and uncertainty for many elderly and disabled clients who, for example, suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia.” Project Citizenship is represented by the law firm WilmerHale.

“Through our immigration service, we have witnessed a pattern of behavior against our disabled community members seeking citizenship,” said Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice Executive Director David Shuffler. “USCIS consistently denies their waiver requests. At best, this results in a delay of the naturalization process. At worst, it leaves our clients without the opportunity to pursue their dream of becoming a citizen. Immigration’s current system is ineffective. Without change, we will continue to see our disabled clients singled out by a harmful and defective system.”

“I am elderly now,” said plaintiff Obdulia Ruiz through an interpreter. “You hope a process will be easier for someone my age. What is the point of treating elderly and disabled individuals so poorly? Why leave me with such uncertainty? I was hoping to become a citizen to feel more secure in this country…Now that feels like it isn’t an option, although this case gives me hope.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and alleges violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the United States Constitution.

Press Conference with Senator Gillibrand and Representative Espaillat

Press Conference with Senator Gillibrand and Representative Espaillat

BIP members attend a press conference to protect Dreamers. 


Sunday, December 3, 2017


Gillibrand: "I Will Not Vote for Any Long-Term Spending Bill That Does Not Protect Our Dreamers”

Senate Republicans Must Reverse Trump’s Decision to End the DACA Program

New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today stood with U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, Dreamers, advocates, and community leaders to announce that she will vote against any long-term spending deal that fails to protect Dreamers. Gillibrand is urging her colleagues to join her in opposing any long-term spending bill that does not include a provision to reverse President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program, which would put hundreds of thousands of Dreamers at risk for losing their protected status and being deported.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows eligible individuals who were brought to the United States as children, known as “Dreamers,” to have temporary protected status and gives them authorization to work. The United States is the only country Dreamers have ever known as home. On September 5, 2017, President Trump announced that he would be ending the DACA program, throwing the futures of hundreds of thousands of young people into uncertainty.

“Dreamers are Americans who know no other country as home besides the United States, and Congress must take action to protect them,” said Senator Gillibrand“In the coming days, Senate Republicans are going to have to pass a spending bill or the government will shut down on their watch. If Republicans refuse to do the right thing and protect Dreamers in this must-pass bill, then I’m going to vote against the bill. We can never allow our Dreamers to be used as political pawns, and I will urge my Senate colleagues to join me in opposing this legislation if protections for Dreamers aren’t part of the deal.”

“It is critical that we work to pass a clean Dream Act in an effort to protect DREAMers,” said U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat.“These young people have lived in the United States for 10 years or more and are productive and contributing members of our society, raising families, serving in our military, and bettering our communities. I take this fight very seriously and personally because I know how it feels and what it means to be young and undocumented in America. I vow to continue my work in Congress to ensuring these young people have an opportunity to succeed in the only country they have ever called home.”

"The passing of the Dream Act would allow me to continue working hard towards achieving my American dream. It would allow me to graduate and go to law school, to be able to pursue work in public service, to give back to our country and help others. It would allow me to live a stable life without fear of deportation. It would allow me to continue contributing to my community,” said Lisdy Contreras, a New York Dreamer. “It would ultimately change mine and my family's life. It would expand my possibilities, expand opportunities, expand my dreams, and allow me to continue demonstrating why I love this country and why I'm grateful."

“Being a Dreamer means fighting for a better life for yourself,” said Dale St. Marthe, a DACA recipient and Co-Presdient of CUNY DREAMers“I came to the United States from St. Lucia when I was three years old. I never learned my native language. While I appreciate them, I don’t understand the customs, and I barely connect with my extended family there. There wouldn’t be any ‘going back’ for me because I was never really there. This is my home.”

“Every day that passes is another day that my DACA status comes closer to expiring — with no hope of further renewal. Because of Trump's reckless and hateful decision to end DACA, thousands of Dreamers have already lost their DACA status,” said Zuleima Dominguez, a member of Make the Road New York and a DACA recipient from the Bronx. “Families like mine can’t wait any longer. It’s time for Congress to meet the urgent need in our communities and pass the DREAM Act before they go home for the holidays.”

"The New York Immigration Coalition and our members have been on the front lines fighting for justice for all of our communities, including the 42,000 DACA recipients who call New York home. We need a clean DREAM Act now so that the nearly million young people can work, study, and continue to build on the essential economic and social contributions they’ve already made to our country,”commented Anu Joshi, Director of Immigration Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. “We thank Senator Gillibrand for her continued support for our communities, and for her brave commitment to vote against any spending bill if the DREAM Act is not included. I only hope more Members of Congress will follow her leadership and do whatever it takes to protect immigrant youth and DACA recipients." 

“In a time where moral courage translates into saving the lives of 2 million Dreamers, we congratulate U.S. Senator Gillibrand’s strong leadership when we need it the most,” said Angela Fernandez, Esq., Executive Director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “Her leadership in doing the right thing for Dreamers sets the example for others in the Senate to follow in her footsteps.”

“The Bronx Immigration Partnership is proud to stand with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and all those who stand with our young people seeking to legalize their immigration status,” said David Shuffler, Executive Director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and co-founder of the Bronx Immigration Partnership. “Bronx DREAMers and their families would benefit tremendously from a solution that acknowledges and authorizes their indispensable contributions to our communities. We are running out of time, but we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached before their status expires.”

“The Asian American Federation stands with Senator Gillibrand, and thanks her for her leadership in standing up for DREAMers,” saidJo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of Asian American Federation“With over 136,000 Asian American DACA recipients at imminent risk of losing their status and livelihoods, we urge other Congressional leaders to join the Senator in making the moral decision of safeguarding our DREAMers. Without a Clean Dream Act, families will be torn apart, and the social and economic contributions made by these young people will seize to continue.”

"After President Trump cruelly announced the phase out of DACA on September 5th, 800,000 Dreamers have been living in great fear that they will be forced out of the only country they have ever known as home. Their lives – and the very question of what we stand for as a nation – is going to be determined by Congress over the coming days,” stated Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation.“We are deeply grateful that Senator Gillibrand has stood up so firmly in defense of our children and American values to assert that she will vote on any year-end spending bill unless decisive action is taken to protect Dreamers. We hope all other members of Congress will heed her leadership, do what’s right for our nation, and pass immediately a clean Dream Act.”

Senator Gillibrand supports two pieces of bipartisan legislation that would protect Dreamers, the BRIDGE Act and the DREAM Act. The BRIDGE Act would codify the DACA program, and the DREAM Act would create a pathway to citizenship for individuals who came to the U.S. under the age of 18.