Lawsuit Settlement Breaks Santa Ana's Citizenship-Application Logjam

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​UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS AFTER THE JUMP. . . Citizenship applications that have been backlogged in Santa Ana for years must be processed in the next six months under a settlement announced today.

The agreement also covers cases in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas. 

According to a statement distributed by the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, "Immigrants who waited for years for their citizenship applications to be processed due to extraordinary backlogs will finally have the chance to become Americans and enjoy the privileges of citizenship" under the terms of a settlement between the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the National Immigration Law Center and the ACLU.

Many immigrants' files that sat dormant for years lacked only FBI background checks. As part of the settlement, the USCIS must provide naturalization data to the legal groups that filed the lawsuit so that the progress of applications can be tracked.

"The naturalization process has been a bureaucratic nightmare for so many permanent residents who did everything right to become citizens of this country," Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney with the ACLU/SC, says in the statement. "Many spent thousands of their hard-earned dollars and pored over endless documents, only to be met with red tape at every corner. This restores the dream of citizenship and ensures that the government will be accountable."

Among those who had been caught up in limbo was plaintiff Sonali Kolhatkar, a United Arab Emirates-born investigative journalist and radio host for KPFK in Los Angeles. She waited more than three years for her citizenship application to be processed after having come to the U.S. on a student visa in 1999 1991 and having been married to a U.S. citizen for nine years in 1999 and bearing a daughter son who is a U.S. citizen. While Kolhatkar waited for her application to be processed, her supervisors would not allow her to cover events where there was police presence, such as peaceful protests, fearing that she might get arrested and endanger her citizenship application. She also was unable to vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Due to the lawsuit being filed, Kolhatkar's application was finally adjudicated and she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

"The bureaucratic delays that keep people from becoming citizens not only violate federal law, but significantly harm people's lives," says Mark Yoshida, co-counsel and staff attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, in the statement. "The USCIS had noted that it needs a tremendous amount of manpower to process the applications of future citizens. This settlement holds the government accountable to its obligation to review the citizenship requests of future Americans in a timely fashion."

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