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What's in a Name: Settlement Affects Citizenship Applications

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 11, 2009 9:00 AM

As discussed in a recent post in FindLaw's Decided blog, on November 9th, attorneys announced a settlement approved in U.S. Distritct Court in Santa Ana showing the government has agreed to major changes in its processing of applications for citizenship. 

The settlement between the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson for the plaintiffs, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), now prohibits delays of more than 6 months on applications from Los Angeles and surrounding counties. Further, the indefinite delays due to the FBI's name check process are now also prohibited.

What does this mean for the hundreds of applicants in Southern California and other regions who have been waiting for years to become naturalized American citizens? A lack of citizenship status can affect job applications, and the ability to vote in historic elections like last year's presidential race, and can prevent family members from starting the process to re-unite with others in the family still abroad.

"The bureaucratic delays that keep people from becoming citizens not only violate federal law, but significantly harm people's lives," said Mark Yoshida, co-counsel and staff attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "The USCIS had noted that it needs a tremendous amount of manpower to process the applications of future citizens. This settlement holds the government accountable to its obligation to review the citizenship requests of future Americans in a timely fashion."

The settlement may lessen the time the application process for becoming a naturalized citizen takes. However, the basic requirements for naturalization remain the same. They are: 

  • Entry, residence, and physical presence: The applicant must lawfully enter the country and gain legal permanent resident status.  After becoming a legal resident, a foreign national must reside in the United States continuously for five years (or three years for spouses of American citizens).
  • Age: A naturalization applicant must be at least eighteen years old.
  • Literacy and education: The applicant must possess the ability to understand, speak, read, and write basic English.
  • Moral character: Applicants must show their good moral character, and that they sustained this standard throughout their residence in the United States.
  • Attachment to constitutional principles.
  • Oath of allegiance to the United States.

For a more complete description of naturalization requirements go to FindLaw's Citizenship & Naturalization Overview.

Finally, The Los Angeles Times spoke to one plaintiff who was delighted with the settlement. Sonali Kolhatkar said, "It's about time. This is absolutely thrilling."

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