CAIR-CA: Civil rights groups sue over delay in processing citizenship

SAN FRANCISCO – Immigrants who waited years for their citizenship applications to be processed because of lengthy security checks claimed in a lawsuit Thursday that the delays violated their constitutional rights.

The suit, filed in San Francisco federal court against the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, among others, seeks to enforce laws saying the government should make a decision on a citizenship application within 120 days of the applicant’s interview.

The immigrants cleared traditional criminal background checks and other requirements only to wait years for clearance through the FBI’s additional name-check process, adopted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

“The system is broken, and it’s time to fix it,” said Maya Harris, executive director of ACLU of Northern California, which filed the suit on behalf of eight immigrants, along with the Asian Law Caucus, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.

Christopher Bentley, spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, defended the rigorous background checks as vital to national security.

“The American public expects that as an agency we won’t grant a benefit such as citizenship to someone who is not qualified,” he said. “We will not and do not grant any benefits until all background security clearances have been resolved.”

One plaintiff, Sana Jalili, is a Pakistani-born mother of two who has been living in the United States since she was 16. She grew up in upstate New York, married an American citizen, and settled in Fremont, where she home schools her daughters.

She applied for citizenship in December 2003, gave her fingerprints, passed a criminal background check, and completed the final interview in September 2004. Although Jalili, 26, said she was told she’d be naturalized in three months, at most, she’s waited almost three years with no conclusion.

“We are continuously told the same message, that my name has gone for a background check,” she said. “But how long does it take to complete a simple background check?”


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