CAIR-Columbus announced today the filing of a federal lawsuit against the US Consulate in Ankara, Turkey for unreasonably delaying an immigrant visa for a young Syrian man who has been waiting to be reunited with his family in the United States.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, a father and son, have been separated since 2014 when the family fled the increasing violence and strife in Syria. After being subjected to torture in Syria and then fleeing to Turkey, the father was granted asylum in the U.S. and is now a permanent resident of the United States. His resettlement was assisted by the International Scholar Rescue Fund, which helped him obtain a position as an Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University.
Shortly after he was granted asylum, he filed for “follow to join” benefits for his wife and four minor children to immigrate to the United States. At the family’s visa interview at the Embassy in Ankara in January of 2015, the wife and all of the minor children were approved except one – a son who was 19 years old at the time of the interview. The family was told that he would require additional “administrative processing,” although no specific security concerns were cited. The son has no criminal history and was among the top of his class at his university in Syria.
Over the subsequent 18-month period since the interview, the family has inquired numerous times with the embassy as to when they could expect their son to be approved. Each time they have been given the vague answer that the application is still pending in administrative processing.
“There is no justifiable reason for the embassy to delay the application and keep this family apart for well over two years,” said CAIR-Columbus Executive Director, Jennifer Nimer, one of the attorneys who filed the case. “Administrative processing is basically an indefinite black hole which embassies and consulates use when they don’t have any legitimate grounds to deny an application but for some reason they want to delay it indefinitely. Muslims are disproportionately affected by extreme administrative processing delays, and this is something we expect to increase with the Trump administration’s efforts to establish ‘extreme vetting’.”
Filing this type of lawsuit, which is called a writ of mandamus, against the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to resolve a visa processing delay at a U.S. embassy or consulate is a rare type of legal action. This is because U.S. consular officers working overseas are often afforded protection against lawsuits under the doctrine of consular non-reviewability, which is akin to diplomatic immunity. Even considering this obstacle and the novel nature of this type of lawsuit, CAIR-Columbus believes it’s important to continue to challenge egregious government actions which are keeping families apart indefinitely. In addition to the emotional hardship of being separated from his parents and siblings, the plaintiff has also fallen behind in his course of study, and faces an extremely uncertain future in Turkey, where some leaders have called for Syrians to be sent back to Syria despite the dire conditions there.
The lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, asks the court to force the Embassy to issue a decision on the pending visa application and also seeks attorney fees and costs.