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US Homeland Security to settle suit alleging naturalization delays

[JURIST] The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] on Tuesday reached a settlement agreement [PDF text] in a federal class action suit brought by two pro-immigration advocacy groups seeking to force the government to rule on the naturalization applications of over 350 immigrants living in Washington state. The settlement, still subject to approval by a US district court judge, would require the government to decide on the applications of all remaining class members by October 18 and reimburse the plaintiffs for $185,000 in attorneys fees. The Northwest Immigration Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy websites] filed the lawsuit [Seattle Pi report] last October after immigrants complained that delays in the processing of their applications for citizenship violated federal law, which states in relevant part:

[A] decision to grant or deny the application shall be made at the time of the initial examination or within 120-days after the date of the initial examination of the applicant for naturalization.
Immigrants may seek naturalization before a district court under 8 USC 1447(b) [text] if the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services [official website] has failed to make a determination within 120 days. The government has stated that the delays were necessary for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] to run security checks on applicants. The government was not required to admit any fault, wrongdoing or liability as a result of the settlement. The Seattle Times has local coverage.

In June 2007, the ACLU filed a separate class action lawsuit [petition, PDF; press release] against federal immigration officials, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of immigration detainees, alleging that inadequate medical and mental health care [JURIST report] at detention facilities has caused "unnecessary suffering [and] avoidable death." Later that year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said DHS policies for detainees with AIDS do not meet international and domestic standards of care [report text; JURIST report], and that the DHS consistently fails to enforce its own minimum standards. The DHS recently released a report [text, PDF] stating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] officials do not always follow proper medical protocols [JURIST report] when dealing with immigrants.

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