Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project and Freshfields File Landmark Lawsuit against Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson

Obama Administration has failed to implement bipartisan legislation and to protect Iraqi civilians whose lives are under “serious threat” as a consequence of their life-threatening work in support of U.S. troops

NEW YORK--()--The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP today announced a landmark lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, as well as the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, on behalf of nine Iraqis in mortal danger as a consequence of their work on behalf of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We are honored to offer our assistance to nine brave individuals who took enormous risks to support U.S. troops on the battlefields of Iraq, but whose plight seems to have been forgotten by Washington”

The lawsuit, filed in Federal Court in Washington D.C., argues that the Obama Administration has failed to honor the Nation’s promise to protect its Iraqi allies through the Congressionally-mandated Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program. The suit also asks the court to order the Obama Administration to act on these individuals’ applications for the special immigrant visas that will allow them to escape Iraq after years of waiting for the U.S. Government to act.

Amongst the nine Iraqi Plaintiffs are several former interpreters, as well as a doctor, an engineer, and other contractors, all of whom worked side-by-side with U.S. forces. All nine demonstrated their loyalty to the U.S. mission through their service, and in so doing rendered themselves targets for retaliation by extremists.

In 2008, with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to protect Iraqis encountering precisely these life-threatening circumstances, but the program has been undermined by poor implementation and extraordinary bureaucratic delays. Congress has since passed seven pieces of legislation urging the Departments of State and Homeland Security to improve processing of these cases, and to require that visa processing be completed within nine months. In spite of this legislation, the nine Iraqis represented in this lawsuit have been waiting an average of more than four years and in one case more than five years for decisions on their SIV applications. And, shamefully, their stories of inexplicable suspense are not unique.

“Every passing day spent in this bureaucratic limbo makes our allies less likely to live to see their visas issued,” said Becca Heller, Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. “With this lawsuit, we aim not only to save the lives of the nine individual Plaintiffs, but also to set a clear precedent that the Administration cannot continue to ignore laws passed by Congress. Today, thousands of Iraqis who worked in direct support of U.S. military personnel are stranded with applications pending. The rise of the Islamic State and the deterioration of the security situation in Iraq have only intensified the threatening conditions that first compelled Congress to create the SIV program back in 2008.”

“We are honored to offer our assistance to nine brave individuals who took enormous risks to support U.S. troops on the battlefields of Iraq, but whose plight seems to have been forgotten by Washington,” said Michael Lacovara, the Freshfields partner supervising the case. “Our clients and their families live in constant, mortal fear of retribution for the vital support they provided to soldiers, government workers and other U.S. citizens in harm’s way. We are confident that the Court will hold the Defendants accountable and require them finally to follow the sensible instructions of Congress and act on our clients’ visa applications.”

If the lawsuit succeeds, the Departments of State and Homeland Security will be obliged to make a decision on the nine Plaintiffs’ SIV applications within a reasonable amount of time. A ruling in favor of the named plaintiffs will also reaffirm Congress’ instruction that processing applications for Iraqi Special Immigrant Visas reserved for the Iraqis who face unique danger as a result of their having volunteered to support U.S. troops, take no longer than nine months.


  • The mission of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is to organize law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a system of legal and human rights for refugees, through a combination of direct legal aid and systemic advocacy.
  • IRAP has safely resettled over 3,000 refugees – with an 85% success rate – over the past six years.
  • IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation and protection to persecuted refugees in the Middle East and North Africa who seek to begin safe, new lives in the West.
  • IRAP was founded as an extracurricular organization in 2008 by five Yale Law School students: one was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghan Wars; another was a Washington Post journalist who had reported from Iraq; three others had worked with refugees.
  • IRAP provides pro bono legal aid to refugees through a model that pairs more than 1,000 law students from 25 law schools chapters with supervising attorneys from over 50 international law firms and five in-house corporate counsels.
  • IRAP has worked with Congress to obtain an additional 13,500 visas for Iraqis and Afghans who aided the United States.
  • IRAP’s broader policy advocacy efforts have made the American refugee admissions process more fair and equitable for over 120,000 refugee applicants to the United States.


Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP is a leading global law firm with a long-standing commitment to pro bono representations of those in need, alongside a nearly 300-year record of advising the world's leading national and multinational corporations, financial institutions and governments on ground-breaking and business-critical mandates.


Mark Doss, 646-602-5627
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Alex Jennings, 212-277-4092

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Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project