Now, can you imagine, a decorated war hero having to wait in limbo for citizenship?
The case is the latest in a string of lawsuits fighting prolonged, system-wide naturalization delays that are the result of lags in FBI background checks known as “name checks,” which USCIS’s own ombudsman has criticized as leading to rampant delays without any clear security benefit. Because of the delays, hundreds of thousands of citizenship applications have been held up well past the 120-day window established by Congress and the immigration agency itself for processing the applications.
“Our government has failed in its obligation to give a timely decision to long-time lawful permanent residents who have followed all the rules and want to pledge their allegiance to the United States,” said Cecillia Wang, managing attorney for the San Francisco office of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It is particularly outrageous that Julian Polous Al Matchy, who voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army and received a Purple Heart after being wounded in battle in Iraq, is among the countless immigrants who have been left in limbo in violation of the law.”
Specialist Polous is a permanent lawful resident of the United States, currently stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. He is a native and citizen of Iraq. He immigrated to the U.S. in May 2001 and quickly applied for political asylum, which was granted in 2002. In 2005, he became a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Polous joined the U.S. Army in March 2006 and served, among other duties, as a translator. He was deployed along with his unit to his native country of Iraq. In October 2007, he was seriously wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself 10 feet from Polous and his fellow soldiers. After partially recovering from his wounds, he agreed to another stint in Iraq until December 2007. For his service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, two Army Commendation medals, a Combat Action badge, Gold Combat Spurs and many certificates and letters of appreciation. He continues to receive medical treatment for his wounds sustained in Iraq.
In April 2007, having met all requirements to be come a citizen of the U.S., Polous applied for naturalization. He was interviewed by the USCIS on January 18, 2008. Despite the passage of six months since his naturalization interview and numerous inquiries by Polous and his commanding officers, USCIS has failed to render a decision on his application for citizenship. USCIS has told Polous that he has not yet passed the FBI background check, despite his combat service in the U.S. Army.
“I was proud to serve America as a soldier in the U.S. Army,” said Polous. “I love this country and very much want to become a citizen. I hope that this lawsuit helps me and other immigrants realize that dream.”
The FBI has always conducted background checks of people applying for U.S. citizenship. However, in 2002, the USCIS began requiring an expanded FBI name check, which checks applicants’ names against a drastically over-inclusive FBI database that includes the names of innocent people like witnesses, crime victims or persons who have applied for government security clearances. When an applicant’s name is similar to a name in the FBI database, the FBI often will let the name check process stall for months or years because further investigation requires a manual review of paper files that may be scattered across the country. USCIS implemented this policy change without giving the public notice and an opportunity to comment, as required by law.
“The government is required to make a decision within 120 days of interviewing any applicant for naturalization. Spc. Polous is not unique in having to endure such an unlawful delay,” said Jonathan Willmoth, an attorney of McCrummen Immigration Law Group, LLC and lead attorney for Polous. “Julian Polous has sacrificed greatly for this country, and it is wrong to deny him citizenship when he has met all the necessary requirements contained in statute or regulation.”
Polous’ commanding officer, Col. David Sutherland, wrote a letter of recommendation in November 2007, referring to Polous’ “flawless performance,” his “willingness to sacrifice greatly” and his “demonstrated record of success.”