Ahmadi v. Chertoff
Seeking to address years-long delays in the processing of citizenship applications, on July 23, 2007 the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and other civil rights organizations filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government for its violation of the Constitution and federal law. The lawsuit, Ahmadi v. Chertoff, sought to enforce federal laws that require the government to decide a citizenship application within 120 days of the naturalization test. Many of the lawsuit's named plaintiffs were still waiting to become citizens several years after taking the test.
On Dec. 22, 2008, the suit was settled after the federal government provided evidence that the naturalization backlog has been cleared and agreed to monitoring by plaintiffs' counsel for the coming year.
The ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, jointly filed the lawsuit against the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). The suit was filed in federal district court in San Francisco.
The Ahmadi case was an extension of an earlier-filed case, Zhang v. Gonzales.
Interminable Delays Due to Flawed Name Check System
The Ahmadi v. Chertoff plaintiffs, long-time legal permanent residents of Northern California, had met all the legal requirements for citizenship, including passing their immigration interview and clearing criminal record checks, but had not been granted citizenship due to a so-called "FBI name check." This system was expanded in November 2002 to run names of applicants against an overly inclusive database that contains not only the names of criminals and suspects, but also countless innocent persons who happen to come into contact with the FBI, such as crime victims and witnesses. CIS's own ombudsman had criticized the FBI name check system for causing widespread and unnecessary delays in application processing. The Ahmadi v. Chertoff plaintiffs'applications had all been pending for at least two years.
The suit argued that these unreasonable delays violated the Administrative Procedure Act and Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The suit asked the court to resolve the individual applications and grant citizenship to the individual plaintiffs. In addition, the suit asked the court to order the agency to process other overdue naturalization applications within a short time period and to process future applications in a timely manner.
The federal government denied the allegations and moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. On Oct. 15, 2007, the District Court refused to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction but dismissed claims under the Fifth Amendment and Administrative Procedures Act for failure to state a claim.
The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and other groups appealed the dismissed class claims to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. To settle the appeal, the government provided evidence that applications are now being processed in a timely manner and agreed to provide additional information to allow plaintiffs' counsel to monitor CIS's processing of naturalization applications for the coming year. On December 22, 2008 plaintiffs withdrew their appeal.
The 15 named plaintiffs in the Ahmadi case have had their naturalization applications granted and become United States citizens at long last.