Aug. 3, 2006 – On behalf of ten immigrants in California, two civil rights groups are suing the federal government for unreasonable delays in their applications to become US citizens.
The plaintiffs, all registered as permanent residents, have successfully completed their applications and naturalization exams, but the US Citizen and Immigrant Services (CIS) has yet to grant them citizenship because the FBI has not completed background checks on them.
â€œPlaintiffs have been robbed of their statutory right to naturalize solely because of the bureaucratic failings and callous inaction of two federal agencies,â€� the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, India, Egypt, Sudan, and Lebanon.
â€œRegardless of whether this delay is due to incompetence or discrimination, the ordeal for law-abiding and patriotic residents has to end,â€� said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a statement.
CAIR, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is helping the residents sue the CIS for not making a decision on their legal status within 120 days of completing the exam, as law requires, and the FBI for not completing checks in a timely manner.
"These are people who have spent virtually their whole adult lives in this country and who want to pledge their allegiance to the United States and participate fully in our society as US citizens," Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement. "There is no reason why anyone should have to wait so long for citizenship after meeting all the requirements."
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs all completed their exams between two and four years ago and have been waiting for CIS to render a decision ever since.
US Immigration law states that the CIS must decide whether to grant citizenship within 120 days of completion of the naturalization exam. If it fails to make a decision before the time limit, an applicant can request a court hearing.
The group is demanding the US district court hold a hearing and grant citizenship to the plaintiffs, as well as order the FBI to conduct â€œname checksâ€� for all applicants within 90 days and for CIS to make its decision within the legally allotted period.
Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman in San Francisco for the Citizenship and Immigration Service, told the Los Angeles Times that about one percent of citizenship applicants wait longer than six months for the standard background checks to be completed.
"I have no idea why they take longer, but we are required to send these names to the FBI. When [the completed background check] comes back to us, we move the file forward," she said.
Permanent residents can apply for citizenship after living in the US for five years. In 2002, it took an average of eight years for immigrants to naturalize from the first day of legal residence to reciting the oath, according to a report released by CIS.