Since the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials have scrutinized citizenship applications in an effort to weed out potential terrorists. But one technique, name-checking would-be citizens through a slew of databases has led to an immigration backlog that's left in limbo potentially millions of applicants already in the United States.
One Charlotte man has found himself caught in the bureaucratic crunch. And he's taken action the American way: He's filed a lawsuit.
Hassan Elannani, principal of Charlotte Islamic Academy, sued federal immigration and homeland security officials on Nov. 20 to take action on the citizenship application he filed June 12, 2002.
A Moroccan citizen, Elannani has lived legally in the United States since 1997, earning a Ph.D. in educational administration from Illinois State University. His wife was granted citizenship in 1995, and his children are U.S.-born citizens, court papers say. But until he's naturalized, he's limited in what jobs he can take, and he can't bring his mother to the United States.
Elannani declined an interview request, as did his attorneys, Katherine Lewis Parker, legal director for the N.C. American Civil Liberties Union, and Cynthia Aziz of Charlotte.
But at least one man who knows him says there's no reason why Elannani wouldn't make a good citizen. Jibril Hough says Elannani is a low-key educator who poses no threat. "He's highly respected in the community," says Hough, a frequent spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte. "I don't see what the problem would be outside of his faith."
The backlogs in citizenship applications aren't likely to cease anytime soon -- USCIS head Emilio Gonzalez testified Jan. 17 before a House subcommittee that the agency experienced an unprecedented spike in applicants last summer due to changes in fees, among other factors. In fiscal 2007, the agency received almost 1.4 million applications for naturalization, nearly twice as many the year before. The agency says applicants aren't singled out based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.
But for years, Muslims have been concerned that the checks are targeting people from Islamic countries or with Muslim-sounding names, says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. "We'd like to see all the backlog cleared, and we'd like to find out why there's a backlog in the first place," he says. "The government hasn't been very forthcoming in all of this process."