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7 Muslims Win Citizenship Tussle

U.S. approves their applications. An ACLU lawsuit had objected to delays that lasted years.

October 06, 2006|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

Seven Muslims who have been waiting years to become U.S. citizens were notified Thursday that their applications had been approved, two months after they joined a lawsuit accusing immigration officials of illegally delaying background checks and allowing applications to linger indefinitely.

The settlement was announced by ACLU attorneys in Los Angeles who filed the suit on behalf of 10 Southern California Muslims. Attorney Ranjana Natarajan said the government did not explain the delays or why the applications were approved so quickly after the filing of the suit.

Marie Sebrechts, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said only that the agency was also frustrated by the lengthy delays.

Three plaintiffs are still waiting for approval, Natarajan said. Under an agreement with the government, the seven who were approved should be able to be sworn in as citizens by Nov. 30. In turn, they agreed to drop their cases against the government.

Mustafa Aziz, 25, an Irvine resident who was born in Afghanistan, said he hoped to be sworn in earlier so he could vote in the Nov. 7 election. Voters must register at least 15 days before an election.

Aziz, who served four years in the Air Force, said gaining U.S. citizenship would also allow him to pursue his dream of becoming a commercial pilot. He has a degree in aeronautics and holds a private pilot's license, but he said being a citizen would make it easier to find an airline job.

"I'll now be able to complete the last leg of my flight training without jumping through the hoops that the [government] puts up for noncitizens," said Aziz, who has a desk job at a flight school at John Wayne Airport.

Norwalk resident Mustafa Osman, 43, said becoming a citizen "is part of my American dream." Osman, who was a doctor in Sudan, works as a counselor for students afflicted with autism and Down syndrome. He has been a permanent U.S. resident for nine years.

"Now I really feel free and equal to everybody," he said.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The civil rights group asked a federal judge to certify the complaint as a class action and include all immigrants who have been waiting six months or more for naturalization after filing applications at the Los Angeles citizenship service office.

Natarajan said she was still waiting to hear if the judge would allow the ACLU to continue with a class action. She said there are about 50 people, including non-Muslims, who could be added.

"These are people who have been left in limbo, sometimes for years, waiting for their security checks to be completed," Natarajan said.

"People shouldn't have to sue to get their citizenship when they've completed the criteria to become American citizens," she said. "The system is broken and needs fixing."

hgreza@latimes.com

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