Homeland Security sued over naturalization delays

The excessive delay in processing naturalization applications has forced thousands to file lawsuits against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) [Homeland Security Department]. These cases are either still pending or have been settled by the parties without addressing the underlying problem of bureaucratic delay. The delays are the result of the FBI name checks that have been conducted after the 9-11 tragedy as an added security measure against the threat of terrorism. Because of the slow processing of the name checks, a huge backlog has been created causing naturalization applicants to wait for years after their interviews for their US citizenship.

Last Tuesday, December 4, a federal class action suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson against the Attorney General, the USCIS and the FBI. The case, Bavi v. Mukasey, seeks to enforce the time limits on the name checks for naturalization applicants.

The current federal law requires that the government approves or denies a citizenship application within 120 days of the naturalization interview. Since the implementation of the FBI name checks, many of these cases have been left lingering for over two years.

In this class action suit, it is argued that aside from depriving the applicants of procedural due process, the excessive delay in conducting FBI name checks actually runs counter to national security concerns in that it actually “extends the time for a potential criminal or terrorist to remain in the country.”

Even the USCIS ombudsman found that the “FBI name check backlogs have grown worse over the past few years, and due to the delay, the name checks themselves may have little value in identifying persons who pose a threat.” While this case is one of the several lawsuits pending in courts around the country, this is the first time to address the issues for those who already had their naturalization interviews and for those who have not.

The unreasonable delay has caused extreme hardship to the applicants because they are deprived of due process and certain privileges and rights of U.S. citizenship such as the right to vote, to apply for federal jobs and to petition for their relatives to join them in the United States.

One of the plaintiffs, who is from Korea, claimed that he had filed for citizenship several months ahead of his parents and brother, but he has not taken his oath yet although his parents and brother have become U.S. citizens. Another plaintiff, originally from Iran, said that he filed his naturalization application in May 2003 but the name check has not been completed.

Hopefully, this latest lawsuit will force the USCIS and the FBI to streamline their procedures in order to meet the deadlines as provided by federal laws.

Reuben S. Seguritan for Filipino Express, NYC, Dec. 10, via Independent Press Association-NY

See our last post on the immigration crackdown.