Mohamed Aboushaban isn’t bitter about the 16 years it took for the government to process his application for legal residency. He’s bewildered.

“If my name was Boris or John, maybe it would have been a different situation,” said the 53-year-old Santa Rosa resident and auto salesman. His lawyer says the Palestinian refugee probably still would be waiting for legal residency, the gateway to citizenship, if he hadn’t taken the unusual step of suing the government a year ago. Exactly a month later, the FBI approved his security clearance, which had been pending for at least five years as part of a “name check” program the bureau expanded after Sept. 11.

The FBI name checks are at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, San Francisco’s Asian Law Caucus and the Council on American-Islamic Relations on behalf of eight green-card holders. The eight have waited years to hear whether they cleared the name check, despite passing all tests, interviews and criminal checks.

“There are thousands of people in this situation waiting years and years with no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Aboushaban’s attorney, Kip Steinberg.

More than 82,000 immigration cases had been pending longer than a year as of May, the ombudsman at U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, which submits all applications it receives for permanent residency and citizenship to the FBI for clearance, said in a report to Congress.

The report said the immigration agency’s policy of waiting to conduct security reviews until after immigrants have applied for legal residency “may increase the risk to national security by prolonging the time a potential criminal or terrorist remains in the country.”

ACLU senior staff attorney Cecillia Wang said the cases disproportionately affect people coming from China, former Soviet republics and Muslim-majority countries.


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