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Years in Immigration Purgatory Come to an End in Southern California

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November 10, 2009

After years in immigration purgatory, a settlement approved yesterday will allow legal permanent residents across southern California to finally have the opportunity to have their citizenship applications processed.

The Los Angeles Times covered the settlement, which came after the ACLU of Southern California and the National Immigration Law Center filed a lawsuit in 2007 on behalf of hundreds of legal immigrants who satisfied the requirements to become U.S. citizens but were left in limbo for months or years due to slow processing of a background check called the FBI name check.

Since 2003, there have been systemic delays in naturalization because the government changed the FBI name check procedure so that applicants’ names are checked not only against the names of suspects and targets of investigations, but also innocent people who have been in contact with the FBI, such as witnesses, victims and people who have applied for security clearances. As a result, the FBI name check process takes much longer than the six months mandated under federal law. Furthermore, the government does not provide any reasons, so the applicants have no way of fighting these delays.

“The naturalization process has been a bureaucratic nightmare for so many permanent residents who did everything right to become citizens of this country,” said Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California in the Los Angeles Times article. “This restores the dream of citizenship and ensures that the government will be held accountable.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the FBI and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have agreed to process 90 percent of the backlogged applications in the next six months. In addition, the suit requires that the FBI and USCIS report their progress in reducing the backlogs in naturalization applications.

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