A far reaching court decision that will allow religious workers to take the first step to petition for permanent residency and submit an application for a green card at the same time is welcome news to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). CLINIC represents over 1,000 religious communities and Catholic dioceses and archdioceses in their efforts to bring foreign-born religious workers to the United States to minister. The case Gabriel Ruiz-Diaz et al. vs United States of America was heard in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington and decided June 11.
"This decision is a major accomplishment and great news for hundreds of religious workers across the country," said Anne Marie Gibbons, director of CLINIC's Center for Religious Immigration and Protection. Before this decision, religious workers were unfairly singled out and treated differently from similar petitioners.
Religious workers were not allowed, like other employment based immigrant petitioners, to file the underlying special immigrant religious worker petition with the permanent residency application. Filing both at the same time stops the accrual of unlawful presence and allows the individual to obtain work authorization. All other employment based petitioners are allowed to file concurrently. The bar created a hardship for religious workers already in the United States who would sometimes have to leave the country before applying for permanent residence in order to prevent accrual of unlawful presence and work.
The District Court decision denounced the bar for religious workers as invalid and unenforceable. The court also directed USCIS to begin accepting concurrent filings from religious workers. The procedure for accepting concurrent filings has not yet been established, but is expected within 15 days from the June 11 decision.
"CLINIC is dedicated to promoting fair and humane immigration policies. The bar discriminated against religious workers and created a burden for hundreds of religious workers. Now, they will have the piece of mind to continue providing important services in their communities and parishes while they adjust status," said CLINIC’s Executive Director Mark Franken.