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For John C. Dwyer, representing immigrants denied proof of their lawful status was a practical matter: He is a member of Cooley Godward’s pro bono committee and was looking for a meaningful case. For his colleague, Michelle S. Rhyu, the pro bono litigation bore a more personal appeal. A native of Korea who arrived in the United States with her family when she was 4, Rhyu empathized with the plaintiffs’ frustrations. “They played by the rules and had gone through the system, but they were unable to get documentation,” she said. “For me, it was a great, compelling case for helping people who are pretty removed from the system but are wronged.” Dwyer and Rhyu, both based in Cooley Godward’s Palo Alto, Calif., office, led a pro bono team that filed suit in 2004 to compel the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to issue proof of lawful status-commonly known as green cards-”in a timely manner” to lawful permanent residents who had passed security screenings but lacked the documentation to prove it. Without proof of legal residency, some plaintiffs were fired from jobs or forbidden from traveling outside the United States. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the documentation took about a week to obtain once the applicant was deemed qualified. Following the attacks, some lawful permanent residents waited for more than a year. Rhyu and Dwyer estimated that as many as 12,539 people who held lawful permanent resident status since Oct. 1, 2000, were unable to get the documentation they needed. The class action claimed the Department of Homeland Security’s post-Sept. 11 policy was “arbitrary and capricious.” Santillan v. Gonzales, No. C-04-2686 MHP (N.D. Calif.). Government attorneys claimed that the delays were justified due to heightened security measures. But U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found the lags to be unreasonable and a violation of the department’s duty to provide timely documentation of status. She granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment last August and ordered the defendants to develop a plan to speed up processing. Mark C. Walters, assistant director of the Justice Department’s office of immigration litigation, was lead counsel for the defense. He said he could not comment because the case was still open pending a final plan. One of the plaintiffs’ biggest challenges was making their case without appearing to undermine national security. “It was very important for us to make sure the case was not about national security,” Rhyu said. “It was about bureaucracy.”

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