Naturalization Delays Hurt Relationship Between Arab Americans and Their Government

Copyright 2006 Daily News, L.P.
Daily News (New York)
May 28, 2006 Sunday
*LENGTH:* 533 words
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER site was still a raw mound of twisted steel and debris when Muhammad Jawwad applied for naturalization in November 2001. Less than a year later, he was called for both his test and interview – the final step before he was to be sworn in shortly afterward as a U.S.citizen.
“I remember the woman asking me, ‘Why is your name Muhammad?’ ” said Jawwad, 46, a health insurance enrollment caseworker at Coney Island Hospital who came from Pakistan 11 years ago. “I told her that’s what my parents put down on my birth certificate.”
Jawwad, whose wife and kids already have become citizens, has waited 3 1/2 years for his swearing in even though immigration officials are required to complete the process within 120 days of the interview. They say the holdup is his FBI clearance.
Immigrant advocates say hundreds – if not thousands – of men with Arabic-sounding or Muslim names are experiencing endless delays in what should be the pro forma final step of the citizenship application process. “I understand the burden that the government has in wanting to make sure that all security checks go through,” said Dev Viswanath, a Queens attorney who said he has two clients who have waited years for their swearing-in ceremonies. “But having to wait two or three years . . . is just ridiculous.”
Azhar Sajawal was unable to join the Police Academy in January because his name was placed on hold by the FBI – delaying his swearing-in ceremony for a year. At the time of enrollment, a cadet is required to be a U.S. citizen.
“I passed the NYPD exam, I even passed their background check, eye exam, plus the hearing exam and other medical exams,” said Sajawal, 26, of Elmhurst, Queens. “I just want to serve this city. I want to be a cop.” Mohammed Nasser, 34, an advertising writer for Citibank, has been afraid to travel for a year now, fearing that he’ll be called in for his naturalization ceremony and miss the notice.
“I want to know that my papers are okay and they’re being looked at,” said Nasser, who lives in Astoria, and hails from Egypt.
*Last month, the American-Arab **Anti-Discrimination Committee** launched a national legal campaign to get the government to resolve hundreds of cases. More than 40 lawyers filed lawsuits in federal courts, requesting that a judge step in and force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete the stalled naturalization cases.
In response, CIS decided it will stop interviewing people whose FBI background checks have not cleared.* Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman, said the delays began in 2002, when CIS booted 2.7 million names of applicants back to the FBI for additional checks, causing a backlog.
“It’s a very complicated process – it involves dozens of agencies and often foreign governments,” said Carter, adding that only 1% of citizenship applicants have had to wait more than the 120 days.
Mohammed Razvi, the executive director of the Brooklyn-based Council of Peoples Organization, said he is working with more than two dozen men who don’t know what else to do to finalize their citizenship cases.
“These are people who did everything that they were asked to do,” Razvi said. “We’re holding back our new citizens.”

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