It was springtime when Asad Khan and his wife, Uzma, drove from their Gilbert home to Phoenix to be interviewed by government officials as part of their quest to become U.S. citizens.

On the same day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services checked off “box A” on Uzma Khan’s application.

“Congratulations!” the response to her application states. “Your application has been recommended for approval.”

Within a few months, she took her oath to become a citizen.

But Asad Khan was not so fortunate.

The agency checked off a box on his application that basically left him in limbo. It reads: “A decision cannot be made about your application.”

Asad Khan’s interview took place March 16, 2006. More than a year later, he is still awaiting a decision. The holdup boils down to one major snag: His name has not yet been cleared by the FBI, which checks for ties to terrorist groups and other anti-American organizations before an immigrant can become a citizen.

“They are not preventing me from living here, and they are preventing me from becoming a citizen,” said the 42-year-old Pakistani. “But if I become a citizen, what would be the difference as far as security is concerned?”

The FBI’s National Name Check Program has been causing headaches for many immigrants like Khan.

The FBI has always conducted routine background checks on people seeking immigration benefits, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001, made the process longer. About a year after the tragedy, USCIS asked the FBI to re-examine all of its applicants before granting any more immigration benefits. In December 2002, it returned about 2.7 million names to the FBI for additional checks.

That caused a massive backlog for the agency, which already receives 67,000 namecheck requests a week from more than 70 federal and state agencies. . .

But the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has received so many complaints from the Phoenix area about namecheck delays, it decided to hold evening meetings about immigration to help answer questions.

“We believe in strong security,” said Mohammed Abu-Hannoud, the civil rights director of CAIR Arizona and a Mesa resident. “But the other question is how can we be supportive of strong security if this prevents law-abiding residents who are paying taxes and contributing to the wealth of this country from becoming citizens?”


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