On July 8, 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 NYLAG’s Special Litigation Unit (SLU) 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 SLU attorney Deborah Berkman.

Under the settlement agreement, USCIS must adjudicate approximately 90% of the naturalization applications of the 1,426 individuals residing in Kings, Nassau, Queens, Richmond, and Suffolk counties who as of June 12, 2008 had been waiting more than 120 days after their citizenship interviews for decisions on their applications. 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 election.

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 could not vote, they could not sponsor immediate relatives for visas, they could not receive certain lifesustaining federal benefits, and they were ineligible for numerous types of jobs. As a result of the court-ordered settlement in Yakubova, those eligible for naturalization will soon be granted all the 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.”

For more information on Yakubova v. Chertoff, or the Special Litigation Unit, contact Jason Parkin [email protected]