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ACLU: Immigrants’ Rights Advocates and ACLU File Lawsuit to End Illegal Delays in Processing Citizenship Applications

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 1, 2008
2:46 PM

CONTACT: ACLU
Maria Archuleta, ACLU National, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Mary Catherine Roper, ACLU of Pennsylvania, (215) 592-1513, ext. 116; mroper@aclupa.org

 
Immigrants’ Rights Advocates and ACLU File Lawsuit to End Illegal Delays in Processing Citizenship Applications
 

PHILADELPHIA - April 1 - Many immigrants who have satisfied the requirements to become U.S. citizens have been illegally left in limbo for years due to the slow processing of FBI “name checks,” charged a lawsuit filed today in federal district court in Philadelphia against government officials responsible for the prolonged, system-wide delays. As a result of the lag in “name checks,” hundreds or thousands of citizenship applications have been held up well past the 180-day window established by Congress for processing the applications.

"There is no reason why anyone should have to wait so long for citizenship after meeting all the requirements," said John Grogan, an attorney with Langer Grogan & Diver, P.C. and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "These are people who want to pledge their allegiance to the United States and participate fully in our society as U.S. citizens."

The class action lawsuit, Ignatyev v. Chertoff, was filed by Langer Grogan & Diver, P.C., HIAS & Council Migration Services of Philadelphia, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Nationalities Services Center, Inc. on behalf of Mikhail Ignatyev and Nataliya Petrovna Demidchik - both from the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. The groups seek a halt to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) practice of holding citizenship applications in limbo for months or even years because of the FBI’s failure to complete a name check of the applicants.

The lawsuit was filed against Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, USCIS Director Emilio T. Gonzalez, Philadelphia Acting District Director Evangelia Klapakis, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller.

The FBI has always conducted background checks of people applying for U.S. citizenship, but after 9/11 the USCIS began requiring an expanded FBI name check, which compares applicants’ names to names held in a broad array of FBI files, including the names of innocent people like witnesses or crime victims. When an applicant’s name is similar to a name in the FBI database, the FBI often will let the name check process stall for months or years, because further investigation requires a manual review of paper files that may be scattered across the country. Neither the USCIS nor the FBI imposes any deadlines on the FBI name check process.

Ignatyev and his wife were admitted to the United States in April 1999 as humanitarian immigrants from the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine under a law to help former Soviet citizens who had faced long-standing persecution because of their religion. His application for citizenship has been pending for over two years, although he has provided all the information requested by immigration officials.

Demidchik came to the U.S. in 2000 to join her daughter who is a U.S. citizen. Demidchik is 83 years old and disabled but remains active through programs at a local senior center and through volunteer work. Her citizenship application has been pending for over two-and-a-half years. In December 2005, she was scheduled for an examination – the final step in the process to naturalization; however, USCIS cancelled the examination in January 2006. She has heard nothing since about her application. Demidchik desperately wants to become a U.S. citizen before she dies.

“Longtime residents who have paid their dues and are contributing to our country deserve a timely decision as required by law,” said Cecillia Wang, senior attorney for the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Our clients are among the hundreds or thousands of longtime residents around the country who have been waiting patiently for years. The time for fixing the system is long overdue.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit include Grogan and Ned Diver of Langer Grogan & Diver, P.C., Ayodele Gansallo and Judith Bernstein-Baker of HIAS & Council Migration Services of Philadelphia, Wang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Mary Catherine Roper and Witold J. Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Kristine C. Mehok of Nationalities Services Center, Inc.

A copy of the complaint is available online

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