U.S. Residents Sue USCIS and NARA for Delays in U.S. Citizenship Applications

May 25, 2022
Last modified: 
May 25, 2022

WASHINGTON—Thirteen people waiting to become U.S. citizens filed a lawsuit today challenging U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ unreasonable delays and failure to process U.S. naturalization applications filed in 2020 because the applicants’ paper-based immigration records (known as “A-files”) are stuck in man-made caves operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and have not been prioritized for retrieval by NARA and USCIS.

Plaintiffs are U.S. lawful permanent residents waiting to become U.S. citizens whose applications are delayed because their immigration files remain in storage—leaving them in a stress-filled limbo and anxious about whether the delay in retrieving their A-files and scheduling their citizenship interviews will prevent them from becoming U.S. citizens in time to vote in the November 2022 election.

The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts by the American Immigration Council and the law firm Gibbs Houston Pauw. The suit seeks to require NARA and USCIS to prioritize the retrieval of immigration files and USCIS to schedule interviews without further delay and timely adjudicate naturalization applications in time for this year’s midterm electoral process—where serious issues about the future of the United States will be determined by who is elected at the national, state, and local levels.

According to the complaint filed in court, “USCIS chose to place immigration files for which it is responsible at a Federal Records Center [operated by Defendant National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)] and then disclaimed responsibility when the COVID-19 pandemic restricted access to the Federal Records Center. Even after the Federal Records Centers returned to full capacity operations in March 2022, USCIS and NARA have not acted to prioritize the retrieval of immigration files and scheduling of interviews for people who have pending naturalization applications.” 

One individual highlighted in the complaint, Thomas Carter, is fearful that he and his husband could be separated if they do not share the same citizenship. He is anxious to participate in the electoral process, to be able to put down roots, feel part of society, and share life in the United States with his U.S. citizen husband and their infant child. He experiences anxiety when he travels abroad, such as when he traveled abroad to attend his grandmother’s funeral in October 2021, and upon his return had to process through U.S. immigration as a lawful permanent resident rather than a U.S. citizen.

“Immigrants nearing the end of their long journey to U.S. citizenship—who want to fully commit to American ideals and principles—should not be shut out of the system because the government has failed to effectively resume full capacity of its operations and access essential records,” said Leslie K. Dellon, senior attorney at the American Immigration Council. Despite properly filing their paperwork to become U.S. citizens, naturalization applicants whose immigration files remain inaccessible are prejudiced by USCIS’ delay in a manner that no other applicants for immigration benefits are. Becoming a U.S. citizen matters to the individuals who want to fully commit to America, it empowers immigrants to achieve full belonging in their communities, and it matters to the country who will benefit from that commitment.”

A couple identified in the complaint as Amir Shoham and Ofra Bazel-Shoham who settled in the United States as professors seeking security and freedom from bureaucratic interference in their lives—and whose families experienced totalitarian regimes—are particularly concerned that citizens have more protections than lawful permanent residents when laws change. They both want the deeper ties to their community, beyond their jobs and paying taxes, that U.S. citizenship brings.

“U.S. lawful permanent residents waiting to become U.S. citizens are facing a loss from the continued delay in retrieving their immigration records that other applicants for immigration benefits will not—the right to vote in the upcoming November 2022 elections," said Adam Boyd, partner at Gibbs Houston Pauw. “USCIS had roughly two years to develop and implement a plan to retrieve records when the Federal Records Centers reopened. Rather than making a plan to remove the processing delays, USCIS provides no timeline for when A-files will be retrieved from storage and schedule interviews for naturalization applicants who filed in 2020.”

 A copy of the complaint is here.



For more information, contact:

Maria Frausto, American Immigration Council, [email protected], 202-507-7526.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
[email protected]

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