A class-action lawsuit filed Friday alleges many immigrants who have met the requirements to become U.S. citizens are left in limbo for months or years because of slow processing of FBI name checks.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in St. Louis, says some immigrants have had to wait more than four years to be cleared by the FBI. It says the delays violate time limits set by law aimed at reducing naturalization backlogs.
By law, a decision on processing must be made within 120 days of the immigrant’s interview, the last step in becoming a citizen, attorney Jim Hacking said.
The suit was filed on behalf of 33 Muslim plaintiffs in Missouri who have settled here from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia and other countries. It seeks to have a federal judge enforce the time limits on name checks for those being naturalized.
The lawsuit names Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Jonathan Scharfen, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, among others.
The FBI conducts the checks. The USCIS oversees the naturalization process.
The delays prevent the citizen candidates from voting and traveling abroad for fear they will be harassed upon return by customs officials, said Kamal Yassin, who heads the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller said the agency would review the complaint and determine how to respond in court.
Spokesman Paul Bresson said the FBI gets 4 million name check requests a year, half of which come from the naturalization agency, USCIS. He said the FBI has eliminated cases pending for four years or more. He said about 85 percent of cases are completed in 60 days.