Serving in the military has been the fast track for U.S. citizenship for many immigrants since the 2001 terrorist attacks. But not for Mustafa Aziz, an Afghan and Irvine resident who served a four-year hitch in the Air Force.

While on duty in 2003, he applied for citizenship and passed the naturalization exam the following year. More than two years later, Aziz is still waiting to pledge allegiance to the country he served, and he is turning to the courts for help.

Aziz is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and a Muslim civil rights group plan to file today on behalf of 10 Southern California immigrants who have been waiting two years or more for their citizenship. The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accuses government officials of illegally delaying their background checks and allowing applications to linger indefinitely.

The lawsuit says federal law requires government officials to approve or deny a citizenship application 120 days after an immigrant passes the naturalization exam. The suit asks that a federal judge review the files and administer the oath of citizenship. It also asks the court to certify it as a class action and include all immigrants who have been waiting six months or more for naturalization after filing applications at the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Aziz, 25, said he was angered after watching President Bush last week attend a ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where three wounded soldiers were granted U.S. citizenship. White House officials said more than 26,000 active-duty members of the military have become citizens since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks under an executive order Bush signed in July 2002, which makes them eligible for immediate naturalization.

Foreign nationals can enlist in the U.S. military if they have a green card, meaning they have received permanent resident status. . .

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the lengthy delays were due to “either incompetence or discrimination.” The council, the ACLU’s partner in the lawsuit, referred the 10 plaintiffs to the organization.

“Whether incompetence or discrimination, the process needs to be fixed. Either way, Muslims will not accept any longer being treated as second-class citizens by this administration,” Ayloush said.


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