For most foreign nationals, coming to the U.S. and obtaining permanent resident status (i.e., a green card) is only the first step in reaching their ultimate goal of becoming a U.S. citizen. Becoming a citizen carries with it many significant benefits, such as the right to carry a U.S. passport, the right to vote in national, state, or regional elections, and the eligibility to receive some government-provided benefits that are set aside especially for citizens.
How to Become a U.S. Citizen
In order for a permanent resident to become a U.S. citizen, that person must complete a process called naturalization. Typically, permanent residents are eligible to apply for naturalization with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) after they have been a resident for at least five years. (This period is decreased to three years if the residency is derived from marriage to a U.S. citizen.) More information on the naturalization requirements and application process may be found at the USCIS website here.
The usual processing timeframe for USCIS to approve any given naturalization application is between four and six months. Of course, any application could experience a delay for any number of reasons, and so occasionally a few applicants wait for a year or more before receiving their U.S. citizenship.
However, there are rare instances when USCIS denies a naturalization application. Denials can happen if the applicant has a criminal background, makes a mistake or lies on the application, or for a multitude of other reasons. A reason for a denial or a lengthy processing time should not be based on the fact that the applicant is a Muslim or from a Muslim-majority area.
Recently, five applicants for naturalization filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government because they feel that USCIS is using the fact that they are from Muslim-dominated areas as a reason to unnecessarily delay or deny their applications. USCIS states that the official reason for the denials is not based on the applicants’ countries of origin but rather on “counterterrorism grounds.”
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and two private immigration law firms helped the applicants file the lawsuit. The lawsuit argues that the USCIS program that established counterterrorism grounds for a naturalization denial is unconstitutional because the program was implemented without Congressional approval and also is in violation of the Fifth Amendment right of due process.
The USCIS program is called the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) and was implemented unilaterally by the agency on its own in 2008. Under the CARRP provisions, USCIS adjudication officers are prohibited from approving any naturalization application that may involve a possible “national security concern.” Instead, the officer must delay adjudicating the case or deny it.
The lawsuit also alleges that the “national security concern” definition that is provided in the CARRP program is broader than other similar provisions in existing immigration laws.
The review of naturalization applications should not be prejudicial or political. Each application – and each applicant – should stand on its own merits, and USCIS should fairly appraise naturalization applications due to the important benefits and rights that are at stake. Hopefully, the ACLU’s lawsuit will spur legal or Congressional action to ensure that the rights of applicants are protected during this process. Continue to check back with our blog for the latest immigration news and developments.
Additional Blog Posts
Democrats Propose New Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, July 20, 2011
Congress Asks DHS to Grant Temporary Protected Status to Filipinos, ImmigRantings, December 5, 2013