July 8, 2008

For immediate release

Court Approves Settlement Mandating Government to Decide on Delayed Citizenship Applications; NYLAG Wins Major Victory for Immigrant New Yorkers

New York, New York – July 8, 2008 – Yesterday, Judge Edward R. Korman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York approved a groundbreaking settlement of Yakubova v. Chertoff, a case brought by the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) on behalf of immigrants challenging pervasive delays in the processing of naturalization applications by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Many of the immigrants who will benefit from this settlement have been waiting years for a decision on their naturalization applications.  “The most common concern that our clients expressed was fear that they would not be able to vote in the presidential election this November.  Now, that fear can be put to rest,” said Deborah Berkman, staff attorney for NYLAG=s Special Litigation Unit.

Under the settlement agreement, USCIS must adjudicate approximately 90% of the naturalization applications of 1,426 individuals residing in Kings, Nassau, Queens, Richmond, and Suffolk counties, who, as of June 12, 2008, were still waiting for decisions on their applications more than 120 days after their citizenship interviews.  As a result of the settlement, these applications must be adjudicated by the end of August 2008, and successful applicants must be given the oath of citizenship in time to register to vote in the November.

NYLAG brought this suit in 2006, after learning from its clients that naturalization backlogs were causing serious harm to thousands of New York City immigrants.  While waiting for decisions on their applications, would-be citizens suffered tremendous hardships: They could not vote, they could not sponsor immediate relatives for visas, they were deemed ineligible for numerous jobs, and they were not eligible for life-sustaining federal benefits.  With today’s court-ordered settlement, those eligible for naturalization will soon be granted the unique benefits of citizenship.

Muhammad Shabbir Sajid, one of the plaintiffs, recently became a citizen after waiting for a decision on his naturalization application for almost three years.  “I am so proud to be a citizen of the United States!  I registered to vote the day I was sworn in and am thrilled that I can take part in November’s presidential election.  I finally feel like I am a full part of American society and I know my vote can bring about great change.”

###

The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) provides free civil legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford private attorneys. Founded in 1990 on the premise that low-income individuals can improve their lives significantly if given access to the justice system, NYLAG has a comprehensive range of services and core practice areas. For more information, go to www.nylag.org.