Thursday, February 8, 2007

Lawsuit Challenges Naturalization Delays

Civil rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit today against the federal government for its practice of indefinitely delaying citizenship applications in violation of the Constitution and federal statutes and regulations.   

“There is no point in calling our legal process a path to citizenship, if the government puts up a roadblock to keep you from reaching the goal,” said Cecillia D.Wang, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.  “We are taking legal action today to reaffirm the promises made to so many patient, hardworking immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens and fully participate in our democracy.”

The first of its kind in Northern California, the lawsuit seeks to enforce federal laws that expect the government to decide a citizenship application within 120 days of the naturalization test. Many of the named plaintiffs have been waiting for several years, a clear violation of the law.

The plaintiffs, long-time legal permanent residents of Northern California, have met all the legal requirements for citizenship, including passing their immigration interview and clearing criminal record checks, but have not been granted citizenship due to a so-called “FBI name check,” a process that has taken years to complete. 

“I was excited when I passed the interview and the immigration officer told me that I would get a final response, at the latest, in three months.  It has been over two years and still no word,” said 25-year-old Sana Jalili who has two American-born children. She immigrated to the United States from Pakistan when she was 15.

The ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, all jointly filed the lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco today. 

“This lawsuit deals with the government’s recent attempts to evade the law: moving the unreasonable delay earlier to skirt the letter of the law while still violating people’s due process rights,” said Sin Yen Ling, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. “Our lawsuit specifically addresses the issue by arguing for a time limit within which the government must complete the ‘name check,’ regardless of the stage at which the check is conducted.”

Todd Gallinger, legal counsel with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, added: ““The Council on American Islamic Relations’ Bay Area Chapter (CAIR-SFBA) alone has received more than 65 cases, mostly from people of Middle Eastern or South-Asian origin.  Other civil rights groups are also reporting a disproportionately high number of persons affected among the American Muslim community. Regardless of whether these delays are due to discrimination or incompetence, they are illegal and must be corrected.”

“The government’s failure to process naturalization applications in a timely manner creates terrible hardships for people like Abdul Ghafoor, who has been unable to bring his wife and four young children to the United States for the last several years” said Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California.  “We are bringing this lawsuit because of the impact on family integrity and civic participation for important members of our community.”   

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, among others.

The case is Zhang v. Gonzales.

For a copy of the complaint go to www.aclunc.org or www.asianlawcaucus.org

bh

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