Afghan and Iraqi citizens who provide assistance to U.S. troops in their countries may be able to enter the United States under Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). Until 2010, just like refugees, if they were disabled, they were eligible for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). However, the law limited their SSI eligibility to eight months from arrival, unlike refugees who are eligible for seven years.
In 2010, the eight-month limit was changed to seven years, in recognition of their vital service to the United States military.
But in 2017, the non-profit organization Refugee Disability Benefits of Oregon (now known as “RISE”) noticed a surprising number of SIV clients whose benefits had been terminated after eight months—or who had not been permitted to apply at all.
RISE investigated and discovered that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) had failed to notify agency-wide personnel in the change of law, resulting in denials of the applications or termination of benefits of significant numbers of special immigrants nationwide.
TCNF partner Jim Coon, representing RISE and several individual special immigrants, filed a class action lawsuit against the SSA to require the agency to find all the improperly denied claims and remedy the error.
The SSA admitted its failure to notify its personnel, but claimed only a handful of SIVs were affected. TCNF insisted on documentary proof, and the government was forced to admit that they had found at least 64 more special immigrants who had been wrongly denied. (The difference between eight months and seven years of SSI benefits is about $57,000 per individual.) While it is difficult to track down exact numbers, it can be guessed that approximately 50,000 to 60,000 immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan have been admitted to the United States on SIVs between 2010 and 2017.
Nevertheless, SSA moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it had found all its mistakes and would fix them to the extent the law allowed. The case was argued November 27, 2018 in federal court in Oregon, and Judge Hernandez denied the government’s motion to dismiss. TCNF partner Jim Coon will now proceed to discovery to determine how many special immigrants were illegally denied so as to get all of them the benefits to which they are legally entitled.