Lawsuit Challenges Delays in U.S. Citizenship Application Processing Due to Cave-Stored Files

by Leslie Dellon

Thirteen U.S. lawful permanent residents filed a lawsuit to end the delay by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in processing their applications to become U.S. citizens. The excessive delays are now threatening their ability to vote in the November 2022 elections.

The plaintiffs each filed their applications in 2020. Yet, they are still waiting for their interviews to be scheduled while others who filed after them are citizens already. Why the wait? Because USCIS stored their immigration files (also known as A-files) in Federal Records Centers—underground storage facilities operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

In March 2020, these storage facilities closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. USCIS won’t schedule an interview until the A-file is available. A USCIS officer must review the A-file before deciding whether to approve the citizenship application and schedule the applicant for an oath ceremony.

Two years later, the Federal Records Centers returned to full staffing and resumed full capacity operations. NARA resumed retrieving A-files and USCIS personnel have assisted with the retrieval. But the agencies made no plan to prioritize the retrieval of the A-files. USCIS also does not have a plan to prioritize interview scheduling for applicants whose A-files are retrieved from the Federal Records Centers.

As recently as May 2022, USCIS has responded to an applicant’s inquiry that it “anticipates a delay in completing” their citizenship application—when the delay is ongoing. But the lawsuit plaintiffs have received no timeline from USCIS on when their A-files will be retrieved from storage and their interviews scheduled.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court in Massachusetts by the American Immigration Council and the law firm Gibbs Houston Pauw, sues USCIS, NARA, and their respective agency heads.

Citizenship applicants face a loss from processing delays unlike any other applicant for an immigration benefit. If they are not scheduled for interviews soon, they will not be able to become U.S. citizens in time to vote in the mid-term elections in November 2022.

The U.S. lawful permanent residents have sued because the delay is preventing them from becoming full participants in the life they have chosen in the United States.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Leslie Dellon is a Senior Attorney (Business Immigration) at the American Immigration Council where she works to change agency practices that impede the intended use of employment-based visa categories. She encourages business immigration lawyers to consider litigation as another tool to serve their clients, engages in impact litigation and represents amicus curiae before courts and agencies. She has more than 20 years of experience advising small to multinational businesses about immigration strategies. In addition to her extensive business immigration law experience, she previously handled general commercial and corporate matters, including civil litigation. She also was a Trial Attorney in the Federal Programs Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice. She is a past Chair of the AILA Washington DC Chapter and has served on AILA National and DC Chapter Committees. Leslie has a J.D. from the George Washington University Law School.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.