LOS ANGELES — Air Force veteran Mustafa Aziz's two-year naturalization odyssey ended Wednesday, along with those of six other plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit, Aziz v. Gonzales, filed by the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in August against the federal government.
The government said Wednesday it intends to naturalize seven class members who have fulfilled all the requirements for citizenship including passing a naturalization exam and interview, but have been waiting at least seven times the legal limit. The ACLU/SC is still seeking a fix for a policy that leaves final-stage citizenship-seekers in bureaucratic limbo — and a straight answer for the remaining clients.
"In the Air Force, I worked to keep this country safe," said the 25-year-old Aziz, who was honorably discharged as a senior airman in 2004 after serving four years. "Now I'm thrilled to join my family as a citizen and hope the government will make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else."
U.S. immigration law gives officials 120 days to grant or deny citizenship to residents who have passed their naturalization exams and interviews. But dozens of Southern Californians and hundreds more nationwide are caught in a confusing — and illegal — run-around.
"We need clear policies that don't string citizenship applicants along for years," said ACLU/SC staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan.
Aziz fled Afghanistan as a toddler with his parents. He lives in Irvine with his family, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
The lawsuit asks the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials to set deadlines on the "name checks," or background checks, that routinely hold up citizenship applications.
The settlement leaves Aziz free to pursue an aviation career, Ibrahim Batliwala to visit his ailing parents in India, and Imran Chaudhry to seek a federal loan for his small-computer business.
Three plaintiffs remain from the original lawsuit, including Yousuf Bhaghani, who has been waiting four years since the FBI cleared his application. CIS agents recently told Bhagani's congressman his application was pending approval.