[JURIST] A federal judge on Monday granted class-action status to approximately 400,000 immigrants from Central America who allege that a separate service fee for immigration applicants violates a federal law [8 USC § 1254a text]. Judge Thelton Henderson of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that the complaints could be brought as a class-action suit [San Francisco Chronicle report] since the immigrants make the same legal arguments. Hailing from Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the plaintiffs legally entered the US due to natural disasters in their homelands pursuant to a federal law that grants temporary residence to foreigners in such situations. The 1990 law allowing entry into the US limits registration fees to $50, which was exceeded by an additional fee implemented in 1998 to take fingerprints, photographs, and electronic signatures. The government argues that the $50 limit only applies to the initial application fee and not to additional charges. The plaintiffs seek $100 million in refunds and a declaration that the excess fee is illegal.
Judge Henderson's decision to grant the plaintiffs class-action status comes during a series of Obama administration immigration reforms. On Friday, the US Department of Homeland Security [official website] announced changes to immigration policies [press release; JURIST report] for state and local agencies. The new policies create uniform standards for local agencies that will require them to pursue all criminal charges leading to an immigrant's arrest prior to initiating removal proceedings. Earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement [official website] issued inspection notices [JURIST report] to 652 businesses as part of an increased effort to target employers using illegal immigrants. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] vacated [order, PDF; JURIST report] an order [text, PDF] by former attorney general Michael Mukasey [JURIST news archive] that denied potential deportees the right to challenge immigration decisions based on ineffective assistance of counsel claims.