Thirty-five Bosnian war refugees have filed a lawsuit claiming the U.S. government is unlawfully delaying their applications to become United States citizens.

The Bosnians, who came to the U.S. legally to escape persecution in the former Yugoslavia, have disabilities that range from post-traumatic stress disorder related to the war to various medical conditions, such as a stroke, their lawyers said Tuesday.

About 40,000 Bosnians settled in the St. Louis area in the 1990s, making it one of the major centers for such refugees in the country. They were asked to wait five years before applying for citizenship, said Ann Lever, litigation director for St. Louis-based Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

Dozens asked for waivers due to disabilities to excuse them from taking the citizenship test in English and were told those waiver requests were approved, she said.

“Every one of them had to submit certification of physical or mental impairments,” Lever said. But then, “Their applications just sat there, and sat there, and sat there.”

The officer-in-charge of the St. Louis office of the U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Chester Moyer, said he had not been aware of the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Lever said 50 Bosnian war refugees filed suit last year over the same issue. Federal officials did not fight that lawsuit, and a special ceremony to naturalize them was held last year.

That successful lawsuit helped to prompt the latest court action.


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