By William Fisher
Critics of the Bush Administration are charging that the recent collapse of immigration legislation in the current session of Congress was rooted in fear of “people not like me” – and that it is not only impacting undocumented immigrants but also legal US residents who have been waiting to up to seven years to take their citizenship oaths.
And one advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is claiming that the delays are disproportionately disadvantaging Muslims.
The organization’s Maryland and Virginia chapter says there is a perception in the Muslim community that the citizenship delays are based on religion and national origin.
The group’s civil rights manager, Morris Days, points out that the Immigration and Naturalization Act requires that the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administer the oath of citizenship no later than 120 days after completion of the naturalization process. But he claims the USCIS “has delayed the oaths for many Muslims based on an unlegislated rule that requires rechecking applicant's files.”
CAIR is calling on the DHS to expedite the cases of local Muslims who have been waiting for up to seven years to take their citizenship oaths.
The group says the individuals experiencing the delays are legal residents who have fulfilled all requirements necessary to become American citizens. “In some cases, the delays are causing personal hardships for those separated from family members or who are in careers that require citizenship for advancement,” it adds.
Days says, "Every citizen and permanent resident has a right to expect fundamental fairness in a process that determines important societal benefits such as citizenship. The problem is that there has been no time frame for applicants to be given citizenship oaths, which results in their lives and futures being in limbo."
CAIR's 2006 annual report on the status of American Muslim civil rights that shows citizenship delays as the top concern.
CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, has 33 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. According to its website, the organization’s mission is “to promote justice, enhance the understanding of Islam, and empower American Muslims.”
While the organization says it has worked closely with the DHS and other government agencies to identify radical Islamists but at the same time to combat “Islamophobia,” CAIR has not escaped controversy. It has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s prosecution of a Muslim-oriented charity, The Holy Land Foundation, for providing material support for terrorists. Holy Land’s leaders are currently on trial in Richardson, Texas, charged with collecting funds in the US that were illegally funneled to Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas. The government charges are that the Foundation raised funds for Hamas, which used the money freed up by their donations to conduct terrorism, with the knowledge of Foundation officials.
Hamas, which won a large majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament following elections in January 2006, is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. The election gave Hamas the right to form the next cabinet under the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the opposition political party, Fatah.
But the two Palestinian factions have been deeply divided since the election, and amid recent armed conflict in Gaza, Abbas dismissed the Hamas Prime Minister and his government, and appointed a new government.
The US shut down the Holy Land Foundation three months after 9/11, saying it sent millions of dollars to the Middle East to help “indoctrinate children to grow up into suicide bombers.” While a number of other charities dedicated to Muslim causes have also been shut down, the Holy Land case is the nation’s biggest terror-financing case yet: The government says that seven foundation organizers illegally sent at least $12 million overseas to Hamas.
CAIR has denied any involvement in support for Hamas or any other group labeled as a terrorist organization.
The Holy Land and related cases present Muslim-Americans with a particularly sensitive issue, since charitable giving is one of the basic tenets of Islam.
In a related development, in June the State Department issued a bulletin encouraging thousands of highly skilled workers to apply for green cards by July 2. The New York Times reported that the bulletin “prompted untold numbers of doctors, medical technicians and other professionals, many of whom have lived here with their families for years, to assemble little mountains of paper. They got certified records and sponsorship documents, paid for medical exams and lawyers and sent their applications in. Many canceled vacations to be in the United States when their applications arrived, as the law requires.”
But it was later revealed that the State Department had issued the bulletin only to prod CIS to expedite green card processing. Since 2000, 182,694 green cards
have gone un-issued because CIS did not process them in time. The annual supply of green cards is capped by law, and demand consistently outstrips supply.
CIS worked through a weekend to process tens of thousands of applications. But after that weekend, the State Department announced that all 140,000 employment-based green cards had been used and that no additional applications would be accepted.
CIS says the law forbids it to accept the applications, but the American Immigration Lawyers Association disagrees with this interpretation. It is preparing a class-action lawsuit to compel the bureaucracy to accept the application surge for which it was responsible.
On July 30, a new fee schedule for immigrants takes effect, substantially increasing the application cost.