On November 21, 2007, private attorneys filed a national class action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenging the refusal by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (a component of the Department of Homeland Security) to accept concurrent adjustment of status applications for special immigrant religious workers. It was the general USCIS policy to accept concurrent filing of underlying visa petitions (I-360) with family-based and other employment-based permanent resident applications (I-485). By regulation, however, this approach was not available for those seeking religious worker visas. See 8 C.F.R. § 245.2(a)(2)(i)(B). Plaintiffs contended that the policy violated their constitutional rights to freedom of religion, equal protection, and due process, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as class certification. Separate motions for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction to stop the accrual of unlawful presence time was filed with the Complaint and granted December 27, 2007 and Aug. 21, 2008. 2007 WL 4593876; 2008 WL 3928016.
In June 2008, Judge Lasnik granted class action status; the plaintiff class was defined as "all individuals currently in the United States who are beneficiaries of a Petition for Special Immigrant (Religious Worker) (Form I-360) that has been filed or will be filed, and who were or would be eligible to file an Application for Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) but for CIS's policy codified at 8 C.F.R. § 245.2(a) (2)(i)(B) that the Form I-360 petition must be approved before the Form I-485 application can be filed." 2008 WL 2645495.
In November 2008, Judge Lasnik rejected the defendant's motion to dismiss, finding that the court could not at that point of the litigation, find that the plaintiffs' various claims were incorrect. 2008 WL 4962685.
In March 2009, Judge Lasnik held that the regulation did not appropriately implement the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and was therefore unlawful. 2009 WL 799683. On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed, finding the regulation permissible under the INA, and remanded to the district court to consider plaintiffs' remaining contentions. Ruiz-Diaz v. United States, 618 F.3d 1055 (9th Cir. 2010).
On remand, the District Court, Robert S. Lasnik, held for the government in all respects. In particular: a) the visa provisions of the U.S. immigration code serve a compelling government interest and do not substantially burden Plaintiffs exercise of their religion (satisfying RFRA) by imposing limitations on the grant of visas; b) fraud in the religious worker visa program is endemic, and "the bar on concurrent filings is a rational regulatory attempt to reduce fraud in the religious worker program. Given the government's legitimate interest in reducing fraud and the broad deference courts show the determinations of the political branches in the context of immigration, the bar on concurrent filings," which singles out religious workers for extra scrutiny, "withstands scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause,"; c) Plaintiffs have "no legitimate entitlement to apply for adjustment of status before obtaining CIS approval of the I-360 visa petition." No process for visa applications is constitutionally mandated, or even statutorily required. Therefore, Plaintiffs' due process claims fail as a matter of law; and d) the threshold for a First Amendment violation is higher than for a RFRA violation, and that claim fails for same reasons as the RFRA violation claim. For those reasons, the Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted Defendants'. 819 F.Supp.2d 1154
Plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal in July of 2011. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Mary M. Schroeder, affirmed for the same reasons. 697 F.3d 1119 (amended 703 F.3d 483). The Court's mandate was issued November 28, 2011, and the district court docket ends there.Dan Dalton - 12/05/2007
Carlos Torres - 06/30/2013