Muslims Sue for Citizenship

May 23, 2008

A few years ago my friend, Nousher, who lives in Washington, DC, visited us in Orlando. He was a former CNMI guest worker, a political refugee, and a victim of human trafficking and labor abuse. When Nousher was returning to Washington, he was harassed by an employee of the Department of Homeland Security at Orlando Airport who pulled him aside, questioned him, and made threatening remarks. Another employee intervened, and Nousher was allowed to board his plane, but the experience left a bad impression.

Nousher is a Muslim and a green card holder. Since that incident he never came back to visit us. He said he'll visit again when he and his friend have time to drive down to Florida, but he will not fly. If Nousher had told me about the incident when it happened, I would have reported it. At the time he was too intimated and ashamed to say anything.

Last week Nousher told me he will not apply for US citizenship. Too many of his Muslims friends have applied, and have waited, and waited. They said that non-Muslim green card holders they know who applied even after they had applied were awarded citizenship years ago. Nousher does not think the process is worth the discrimination and hassle.

Knowing Nousher's story, I was interested to read today's Orlando Sentinel article, "Suing for Citizenship" by Babita Persaud. She states that 25 Muslims joined a statewide lawsuit against Citizen and Immigration Services and the FBI "for what they called unusually lengthy delays in processing their citizenship applications." Some of the applicants waited as long as five years. Since filing the lawsuit 5 plaintiffs from Central Florida have become US citizens.

"These lawsuits bring to the attention of the government that processing delays is a big problem," said Shazhad Ahmed , an Orlando Attorney who represents the Muslim clients.

Nationally, lawsuits against the immigration agency are becoming more common, especially in places with large Muslim populations. Central Florida has an estimated 40,000 followers of Islam.

The federal law requires a decision on citizenship to be made within a 120 days of the applicant's naturalization interview. According to the article:

"For Muslims, the FBI name check often holds up the application. Nearly 200 databases and offices are checked before a name is cleared.

According to the Department of Homeland Security report, 64 percent of the FBI name-check cases had been pending for more than 90 days, 32 percent more than a year.

Muslim names are often singled out, advocates say."

Racial profiling and discrimination have absolutely no place in government agencies. Hopefully, the lawsuit will force these agencies to stop the discriminatory practices.