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U.S. places hurdles in front of asylum seekers, lawsuit say

By Martha Bellisle Associated Press

SEATTLE – Lawyers representing four asylum seekers have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the U.S. government places hurdles in front of people who try to file asylum applications.

The Department of Homeland Security fails to notify asylum seekers about a one-year deadline to apply, and then bureaucratic obstacles, court backlogs and disputes between agencies often makes it impossible for people to meet that deadline, according to the complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The plaintiffs fled persecution in their countries and sought asylum, but their efforts were “thwarted by a government process that is anything but fair; indeed, it conflicts with fundamental notions of due process: notice and the opportunity to be heard,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Homeland Security to come up with a plan to fix the problems. It also seeks class-action status.

“Our Constitution and immigration laws require a fair process,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “The government must make the rules clear, ensuring that those who qualify for asylum have a genuine opportunity to apply.”

A spokesman with the Department of Justice did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

One of the plaintiffs, Elmer Geovanni Rodriguez Escobar sought asylum from Honduras. He entered the U.S. in July 2014 after he was threatened by gang members who murdered his nephew, shot at his home, and tried to kidnap his daughter from school. He established a credible fear of persecution during his interview with the federal agency and was released from custody.

But no one told him about the one-year deadline and now immigration officials have rejected his attempts to file his application, the complaint said.

The same thing happened with plaintiff Concely del Carmen Mendez Rojas, a 30-year-old asylum seeker from the Dominican Republic, the complaint said.

Lidia Margarita Lopez Orellana arrived from Guatemala at the Eagle Pass, Texas, port of entry with her two children in February, 2014. She told officials that she was afraid to return to Guatemala and she was released into the U.S. to await a removal hearing. But no one told her about the one-year deadline for applying for asylum, the complaint said.

Other asylum seekers across the country have faced dire consequences because they were not adequately informed about the process, the compliant said. And those who knew about the deadline were often trapped in a system that is choked with inefficiencies and backlogs, it said.

The government has failed to implement a system that guarantees asylum seekers the chance to comply with immigration laws, and this failed system is violating their rights, the complaint said.

“The United States must continue to be a place of refuge for those fleeing harm in their home countries,” said Hilary Han, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs. “The government has failed to honor our obligation to genuine asylum seekers by making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to file their asylum applications in a timely manner.”

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