SEATTLE -- In a class-action lawsuit filed today, four people in the Seattle area are challenging the federal government's unlawful and unreasonable delays in handling their applications to become U.S. citizens. All are legal permanent residents who have waited years for the government to make a decision on their requests to become citizens — far beyond the 120-day deadline specified in federal law.
Representing them are the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), and Rita Latsinova and Alfred Day from the law firm of Stoel Rives LLP. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
"The government's failure to act leaves these individuals in limbo. Many of them have spouses and children who are U.S. citizens, and they worry that when traveling, they might be prevented from returning to their homes in America. They also want to be able to vote and participate fully in civic life," said Sarah Dunne, Legal Director of the ACLU of Washington.
"Our clients are already lawful permanent residents who have put down roots in the community. Denying their rights to become citizens when they have fulfilled all legal requirements doesn't make us safer, it just undermines democracy," said Matt Adams, interim Executive Director of NWIRP.
Federal law says that the government must make a determination on naturalization applications within 120 days for individuals who have successfully completed their citizenship examinations. In recent years, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has routinely disregarded this deadline in order for the FBI to conduct "name checks," which are not required by regulation or statute, even though the applicants have already been cleared through separate FBI criminal background checks. As a result, many applicants have been waiting needlessly for years to become citizens.
The lawsuit seeks to have the government complete name checks for plaintiffs and issue a decision on their naturalization applications within 90 days.
The problem of unreasonable delays is widespread. NWIRP is aware of nearly 100 local immigrants whose naturalizations are overdue, and attorneys for the plaintiffs believe that hundreds more in Washington are facing similar delays. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit to cover the numerous people affected by the government's inaction.Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: