Groups file suit over citizenship delays

02/27/08 Seán Kinane
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This morning in front of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center announced they were filing federal lawsuits challenging lengthy delays in processing the citizenship applications of Florida Muslims.

Jamila Baraka, with the Tampa chapter of CAIR, discussed the suit.

“We’ve recently filed one set of what we expect will be many waves of class-action lawsuits related to naturalization delays throughout the state of Florida. Currently in Florida we filed 25 complaints of those 14 are in the Middle District. They were filed last Tuesday, on the 19th in Orlando Florida. Of those 14, seven are right here in the Tampa Bay area.”

Those 14 legal permanent residents filed a complaint “against Citizenship and Immigration Services [CIS] and the FBI challenging unreasonable delays in deciding their petitions for naturalization,” according to Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center’s Managing Attorney Mary Gundrum.

“The delays are caused, the CIS claims, due to name checks. They call it name checks. These are not background checks. Background checks. check whether or not people have committed any crimes and that can be done very quickly, usually within a matter of 48 hours. None of our people have committed any crimes. Name checks instead are checks for the name an individual files. They can be any kind of file, a witness file, a victim file, a crime file. And if even part of a name of one of our plaintiffs appears in those files, they get stuck in limbo for years and years.”

Gundrum called name checks “an enormous waste of resources” that “achieve no meaningful results.”

“In fact, immigrations ombudsman actually acknowledged that the FBI name checks are not needed because of any threat or risk perceived by the FBI. And in fact, name checks may be the biggest obstacle to timely and efficient delivery of immigration services.”

CAIR’s Baraka said because many Muslims have common Arabic names, the name check process amounts to racial and religious profiling.

“So if one person somewhere across the globe commits a crime and they’re considered a terrorist, well their name is going to end up on some type of other list, a name check list, a no-fly list, but really there’s no similarity. So they have instituted a redress process as far as it goes for the no-fly list. But when it comes to the naturalization process I think that there’s still too much fear and they still use racial and religious profiling to segregate out the Muslim community to immigrate here in a lawful way.”

The CIS is violating the federal law requiring that a decision be made within 120 days of the naturalization interview, according to Gundrum.

“All of our plaintiffs in this action have waited more than a year and a half after their interview, some of them for as long as four years.”

Referencing the recent focus on immigration in the country, Juan Pablo Chavez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said that even immigrants who follow the rules are denied timely citizenship.

Gundrum reiterated that despite following the correct procedures, these immigrants still have not been able to obtain citizenship.

“Our lawsuit asks the court to declare that these extraordinary, indefinite delays are illegal and it asks the court to order Immigration and the FBI to complete the background checks within 30 days.”

The lawsuit also asks the court to grant citizenship to the plaintiffs, including Samir Othman, who was born in Jordan but has lived in the United States for more than two decades.

Othman’s 12-year old son Khys wants his father to get his citizenship “... because then we could travel as a family … and have fun.”

Gundrum pointed out that they also “filed two similar court actions in Southern District in Miami on behalf of 11 additional plaintiffs.” Some of them are longtime U.S. residents who won asylum cases.

In addition to CIS and the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey are also listed as defendants in the complaint.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center


Florida Immigrant Coalition

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services


Department of Homeland Security

Attorney General Michael Mukasey

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