Chicago Tribune: Muslims sue for citizenship, allege gender, religious bias

Ten Muslim men allege that they have been denied U.S. citizenship for up to two years, in violation of their civil rights, despite passing every test and interview, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

The men are permanent legal residents who say they should have been sworn in as citizens within 120 days of meeting all the requirements. Instead, they said they have been kept waiting for a year or more.

Meanwhile, “hundreds of thousands of other people seeking to be naturalized” have had their swearing-in ceremonies, the lawsuit said.

“They’re in limbo,” said Christina Abraham, civil rights coordinator for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, an advocacy group that represents the plaintiffs. “These are people who don’t have any criminal record whatsoever. … They don’t know why they’ve been delayed. They’ve done everything they can do.”

The plaintiffs allege the delays discriminate against them on the basis of their gender and religious beliefs. They are seeking a court order that they be sworn in as citizens, along with unspecified money damages and attorney fees.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and top officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI are named as defendants. Federal officials had not yet reviewed the lawsuit on Thursday and could not comment, said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Paul Plunkett.

The plaintiffs are seeking to bring the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of thousands of other Muslim males who they allege may face similar problems. The wait is frustrating for those who want to apply for certain government jobs or want to know whether they can vote in the next election, Abraham said.

CAIR in Chicago has gotten about 80 complaints in the last year, Abraham said. She said other chapters also have fielded complaints and may file suits.

The plaintiffs have tried to determine how their wait times compare with other ethnic groups. But they said U.S. officials have failed to produce the necessary records under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs seek the records as part of the lawsuit.

“We don’t really know what is going on here,” Abraham said. “There is a lack of transparency in the system.”


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune