Naturalization Applicants Overcome Bureaucratic Delays

January 8, 2008

In the past year, Cleary Gottlieb successfully represented three immigrants in a trilogy of federal court petitions challenging excessive and unreasonable delays in the process of obtaining their United States citizenship.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a decision to grant or deny citizenship must be made within 120 days after the initial “examination,” or interview, of an applicant. In practice, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services often fail to make a decision within this statutory period, claiming that the term “examination” used in the statute does not refer to the interview by USCIS but instead encompasses all background checks, which have no deadline.

To challenge that position, Cleary Gottlieb successively filed petitions in the nature of mandamus in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of three pro bono clients: a Russian citizen who had been waiting for a decision for about a year after his interview, an Uzbek-born Israeli citizen who had been waiting for over three years, and a stateless refugee from Belarus who had been waiting for over four years.

All three cases were promptly and successfully resolved without litigation: within three weeks of the filing or Cleary Gottlieb’s appearance, each of the clients received an invitation for his or her naturalization ceremony, and all three became U.S. citizens in 2007.