Dr. Joseph Vadas, a legal immigrant from Hungary who has practiced medicine in Texas since 1978, seems like an unlikely national security threat.

The 73-year-old Woodlands physician wears an American flag tie on special occasions, has a framed picture of Ronald Reagan in his home study and boasts about delivering more than 1,400 Texas babies. “I’ve never lost a baby. I’ve never lost a momma,” he says, grinning.

Yet, after 29 years as a physician in Texas and a legal permanent resident, and more than two years after filing his naturalization application, Vadas is still waiting for the FBI to finish his background check so he can become a U.S. citizen.

Like hundreds of thousands of other would-be citizens and green-card holders, Vadas’ application has quietly stalled in the FBI’s Name Check Program, a part of the immigration process U.S. officials say is critically important, yet remains understaffed nearly six years after 9/11.

Prakash Khatri, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman, said in his annual report this month to Congress that the FBI name checks “may be the single biggest obstacle to the timely and efficient delivery of immigration benefits.” . . .

The FBI bottleneck has led to professional and personal frustration among legal immigrants. Foreign-born scientists have been unable to get federal grants to research a range of conditions, from osteoarthritis to AIDS, according to court filings. Immigrants with pending applications have endured travel restrictions, sometimes for years, as they wait for their applications to move through the system.

In some cases, families have been separated for extended periods of time because of the delay in adjusting from green card to citizenship status, which allows for a greater range of family reunification visas.

Some members of the Muslim community in Houston have grown increasingly concerned that they are being disproportionately delayed in the naturalization process, said Shariq Abdul Ghani, the director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Houston.

On Friday, CAIR launched an Immigration Delay Project to help people in Houston who have been waiting more than 120 days for their background check to clear after their naturalization interview. CAIR officials are reaching out to local Muslims through e-mails and at mosques, offering free legal advice, Ghani said.

“I want to protect borders and ensure the safety of this country just like everyone else,” Ghani said. “But isn’t it logical to have these background checks sped up, so you know if this guy’s a terrorist, you can get rid of him quickly or detain him and put him in prison?

“In our opinion, these lengthy background checks only hurt national security,” Ghani said.


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