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Proposed Settlement Reached in Walters v. Reno,
by Linton Joaquin

A proposed settlement has been reached in Walters v. Reno, No. C94-1204C (W.D. Wash.), a class action lawsuit that challenged the forms and procedures used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to implement the civil document fraud provisions of 274C of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In 1996, the federal district court in Seattle found that the forms and procedures used by the INS violate due process, and issued a nationwide permanent injunction that was subsequently upheld by the Ninth Circuit. The proposed settlement now would require the INS to vacate all document fraud orders that were issued without a hearing as a result of the deficient forms, and provides a procedure for class members to reopen their deportation cases. The settlement also establishes new forms and procedures that the INS can use to implement 274C. The district court has preliminarily approved the settlement, and has scheduled a fairness hearing for February 22, 2001, to consider any objections from class members and to decide whether to finally approve the settlement.

On March 13, 1996, the district court issued a decision granting summary judgment to plaintiffs and certifying a nationwide class. Judge John C. Coughenour found that the forms and procedures used by the INS to initiate 274C proceedings violate due process. The court subsequently issued a permanent injunction, prohibiting the INS from using the challenged notice forms to initiate 274C cases. The injunction also prohibited the INS from using any future 274C notice forms that are not written in both English and Spanish, or that do not simply and plainly communicate the nature and consequences of the 274C charges and the procedures for contesting them. The INS was enjoined from taking any action to enforce 274C final orders until class members have had the opportunity to move to reopen their cases under the injunction and had their reopened proceedings adjudicated. The injunction also required the INS to take a number of affirmative measures to afford relief to individuals who received final 274C orders without a hearing because of the challenged notice forms, but these portions of the injunction were stayed pending appeal.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the 274C notice forms and procedures violate due process. The opinion upheld the district court's injunction in all aspects but one: rather than requiring the INS to develop new forms in English and Spanish, the court left it to the agency's discretion in the first instance to fashion an appropriate notice. Walters v. Reno, 145 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir . 1998), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 1140 (Mar. 8, 1999). After the U.S. Supreme Court denied the government's petition for certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit decision, the parties pursued settlement discussions, and ultimately reached an agreement, subject to the approval of the district court.

Copies of the complete proposed settlement may be obtained from NILC, and are also available at NILC's website: www.nilc.org. Any objections must be postmarked by January 22, 2001.


About The Author

Linton Joaquin is Director of Litigation of the National Immigration Law Center's Los Angeles office. As NILC's litigation director, Mr. Joaquin has primary responsibility for overseeing the litigation NILC brings to defend the rights of immigrants and refugees. Spanning more than 20 years, his practice has encompassed service as lead or a principal counsel in numerous class action lawsuits seminal to the effort to protect and preserve immigrants' rights in the courts. Such cases include Walters v. Reno, in which the Immigration and Naturalization Service was enjoined from charging immigrants with civil document fraud without advising them of the nature of the charges and the serious consequences at stake; Orantes-Hernandez v. Meese, in which the INS was prevented from systematically coercing a nationwide class of Salvadoran refugees into abandoning their right to seek political asylum; and Perez-Funez v. INS, in which the INS was prevented from having detained children waive their right to a hearing without first having access to legal advice. Prior to joining NILC, Mr. Joaquin served as executive director and director of litigation for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) in Los Angeles, and staff attorney for the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO. He has also taught immigration law on an adjunct basis at the University of Southern California Law School (1997) and Southwestern University School of Law (1991-1996). Mr. Joaquin holds a Juris Doctor from the University of California (Boalt Hall).

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is a national support center whose mission is to protect and promote the rights of low income immigrants and their family members. NILC staff specialize in immigration law, and the employment and public benefits rights of immigrants. The Center conducts policy analysis and impact litigation and provides publications, technical advice, and trainings to a broad constituency of legal aid agencies, community groups, and pro bono attorneys. NILC maintains offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. and operates the Sacramento policy office for the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative.

How to Contact NILC:
3435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2850
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Voice: 213-639-3900
Fax: 213-639-3911
info@nilc.org

 



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