Some Wait Years for Final Citizenship Approval

Some Wait Years for Final Citizenship Approval


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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting Since September 11th every new U.S. citizen must clear a name and background check before being sworn in. Most come back in a timely fashion, but some Utahns are waiting two to three years to get results -- and they're frustrated with the system.

Naturalization ceremonies are an emotional time for immigrants who've realized a very special goal.

Abdulkadir Sheba, Trying to Become U.S. Citizen: "When I come in the United States, my dream was to become an American citizen."

But for those stalled in the system, it can be trying. Abdul Sheba has been living in Utah for five and a half years, where he's a taxi driver for Yellow Cab.

Abdul Sheba: "I get all my greencard, everything."

Abdul filled out his citizenship application three years ago and had his interview in 2003. The immigration officer told him he passed. The next step was supposed to be the oath ceremony, which typically happens within a month. But after six months, Abdul had received no information.

Abdul Sheba: "When I went there I asked them and they say, your name has been checked. I don't even commit any crime, not being arrested, not violated the law. Now it's about two years and four months."

Scott Benson, Immigration Coordinator, Catholic Community Services: "It's frustrating, especially when I see our good clients who are deserving of at least getting a decision, having to wait and not having any answers.

Abdul is not alone. Catholic Community Services has identified nine people, all Muslims, who've experienced significant delays in receiving citizenship. And these are just the cases they know

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says 95-percent of name checks come back to them within a month. Four-percent take up to six months, and one percent take "a lot longer." Though it's a small percentage, it equals about 6,000 people.

Scott Benson: "Our clients do have the right to have the matter addressed."

The FBI says it's not singling out any one group of people. But reasons for the delay can vary. If the person is not a threat, they may have the same name as someone who is or they may come from a country that isn't cooperative in providing information. An FBI spokesman says when they have to balance security and efficiency, agents won't approve a case unless they have an "unequivocably correct result."

Abdul says he understands the reasons behind the name checks.

Abdul Sheba: "You have to make sure who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. I don't mind for that."

What he worries about is that he'll never get an answer to his dream, leaving him feeling like the meter in his taxi, continuing without a limit.

Immigration regulations mandate that officials make a final decision on an applicant's citizenship within four months of their interview. The Catholic Community Center says clients could take the issue to federal court, but most of the time they don't have the money to do it.

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